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At Hard Labor

Inmate Labor at the Colorado State Penitentiary, 1871-1940


Elinor McGinn

This first-of-a-kind study places the Colorado State Penitentiary in a national context of traditional incarceration and inmate labor as a means of punishment, reform and self-support. The author's thorough research reveals that an ever-expanding institution can bolster the economy of a community, but fail to become self-supporting. When inmate labor competed with free labor and free enterprise, the latter two formed an unusual alliance leading to legislation that confined prison labor to state-use production only. For a time, Colorado attracted national attention with its successful honor road camps where inmates prepared over 2000 miles of road. Details of other early experiments with prison labor illustrate the unique Colorado environment.