This project is a critique of the dominant discourse surrounding prison labour in Canada and the United States. Looking at the phenomenon through an interdisciplinary lens, this project fills the space between communication-focused scholarship that approaches incarceration from a media-criticism perspective or by critiquing the use of digital technology for carceral purposes, and the criminological body of work focused on prison work programs. In other words, this investigation explores the reality of working while incarcerated against the dominant discourse that supports and maintains the practice. Stakeholders in the criminal justice systems in both Canada and the United States define four rationales for prison labour: it keeps prisoners out of trouble, teaches skills relevant to the workplace, eases the transition post-release, and that prisoners should be financially responsible for their own incarceration. These four justifications form the basis for modern prison labour programs, but the reality is more complicated. Using the interview as methodology, and taking a Marxist-Foucauldian approach to analysis, this thesis explores the lived experience of thirteen individuals who experienced incarceration in Canada and/or the United States to critique the rationales that are used to justify their labour which is often forced or coerced. This thesis supports scholars who argue that prison labour is modern slavery, but also acknowledges the potential benefits of robust skill training that centres the individual's needs over the maintenance and operation of the institution.
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Thesis advisor: Brophy, Enda
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