Derek Willie is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.
If you ask an ordinary American, he/she might tell you that slavery is illegal in the United States-- and has been for quite a while. But the reality is that’s not entirely true.
Interestingly enough, the Thirteenth Amendment, historically recognized as the formal end to slavery, actually permits involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. It states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  The qualifier to the slavery ban is thus the ultimate legal authorization of forced, unpaid prison labor. Furthermore, courts have ruled that national labor standards, most significantly the Fair Labor Standards Act, do not protect prison inmates because they do not constitute “employees” as the legislation defines them. 
Unsurprisingly, the unprotected labor of prison workers is rewarded with wages far below $7.25 per hour, which is the current national minimum wage. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, federal prisoners who work-- by mandate-- for UNICOR, a government-owned corporation that sells goods made by prisoners, make from $0.23 to $1.15 per hour of labor.  UNICOR doesn’t seem to dispute the low wages it pays prisoners;in a FAQ concerning the corporation’s alleged unfair market advantage, the website casually admits that its workers “are paid considerably less than minimum wage.”