Penal labour is banned in most if not all of the United Kingdom. Perhaps because of

No prisoner shall be employed, in the service of the institution, in any disciplinary capacity


However, penal labour is legal in the US. Isn't US a signatory to that document in the link?

  • You mention "signatory" as if this document were a treaty. It is not.
    – phoog
    Dec 12, 2021 at 13:15
  • @phoog what should be the correct word?
    – Gary 2
    Dec 12, 2021 at 14:11

1 Answer 1


You have misunderstood article 28:

It means that prisoners may not be employed by the prison in a role in which they punish other prisoners. Although they can, for example be a referee in a prison football match or work as teachers, provided this is done under supervision.

You can't set up a system in which you give some prisoners the right or duty to punish other prisoners.

The document you linked to has a section on prison work.

  1. (1) Prison labour must not be of an afflictive nature.

(2) All prisoners under sentence shall be required to work, subject to their physical and mental fitness as determined by the medical officer.

It says that prison labour is a right, not a punishment. Prison labour must not be of a nature that it is part of a punishment.

It says that prisoners should be engaged in work, for which they should be paid. The purpose of this work is to better prepare them for life after prison.

The USA is not fully compliant with this document, In some states, work can be forced and unpaid.

This document is produced by the Office of the High Commisioner on Human Rights, and agreed at the UN congress in 1955. However neither the High Commissioner, nor the UN Congress have the power to decide on the law in the USA, which is a sovereign nation. They can support, assist and advise governments on Human Rights, but they don't have an enforcement division.

  • The existence of forced, unpaid prison labor in the United States is a violation of prisoners' human rights that could reasonably be compared to slavery, but perhaps is not too surprising given the many problems (particularly racism) present in the USA prison system. What surprises me more is that the United Nations not only approves of but also would like to require forced labor on the part of all prisoners (albeit compensated).
    – Obie 2.0
    Dec 12, 2021 at 4:07
  • 2
    @Obie2.0, in my opinion a prison system failed miserably if they release somebody after 5 or 10 years and that ex-inmate does not have a current vocational training and the certifications to go with it. One of the goals is to prepare inmates for a non-criminal career, after all.
    – o.m.
    Dec 12, 2021 at 7:01
  • 1
    @Obie2.0 the US's prohibition on slavery explicitly excludes prisoners. Unpaid prison labor isn't just comparable to slavery, it explicitly is slavery
    – Caleth
    Dec 12, 2021 at 13:28
  • 3
    71. (2) seems not to say that labor is a right, but that it is a mandatory aspect of any prison sentence of any medically fit prisoner. A right is something you can choose to not exercise, but the phrasing here ("required to") doesn't seem to offer any such possibility. Dec 12, 2021 at 15:05
  • 1
    @zibadawatimmy I think the intent is that certain prisoners not be singled out as required to work, the work requirement must be applied equally to all prisoners who are physically able. Maybe "right" is not the best word, but the point is that it must not be a punishment.
    – Barmar
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:05

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