Prison Labor: The Price of Prisons and the Lasting Effects of Incarceration

African Economic History Working Paper Series No. 52, 2020

95 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2020 Last revised: 29 Jan 2021

See all articles by Belinda Archibong

Belinda Archibong

Columbia University - Barnard College

Nonso Obikili

Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA)

Date Written: June 25, 2020

Abstract

Institutions of justice, like prisons, can be used to serve economic and other extrajudicial interests, with lasting deleterious effects. We study the effects on incarceration when prisoners are used primarily as a source of labor using evidence from British colonial Nigeria. We digitized sixty-five years of archival records on prisons from 1920 to 1995 and provide new estimates on the value of prison labor and the effects of labor demand shocks on incarceration. We find that prison labor was economically valuable to the colonial regime, making up a significant share of colonial public works expenditure. Positive economic shocks increased incarceration rates over the colonial period. This result is reversed in the postcolonial period, where prison labor is not a notable feature of state public finance. We document a significant reduction in contemporary trust in legal institutions, like police, in areas with high historic exposure to colonial imprisonment. The resulting reduction in trust is specific to legal institutions today.

Keywords: Prison, Taxation, Convict Labor, Public Works, Economic Shocks, Trust

JEL Classification: H5, J47, O10, O43, N37

Suggested Citation

Archibong, Belinda and Obikili, Nonso, Prison Labor: The Price of Prisons and the Lasting Effects of Incarceration (June 25, 2020). African Economic History Working Paper Series No. 52, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3635484 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3635484

Belinda Archibong (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Barnard College ( email )

3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Nonso Obikili

Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA) ( email )

Newlands on Main F0301 – 3rd Floor Mariendahl Hous
Cnr Campground and Main Roads
Cape Town, Claremont 7700
South Africa

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