Type: Seminar

Prison labor: The price of prisons and the lasting effects of incarceration


Seminar is open to U-M students and faculty.


Belinda Archibong, Columbia University

Date & time

Oct 1, 2020, 4:00-5:20 pm EDT


This is a Virtual Event.

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.

From the speaker's bio

Professor Archibong's research areas include development economics, political economy, economic history and environmental economics with an African regional focus. Her research areas include development economics, political economy, economic history and environmental economics. Her research investigates the role of historical institutions and environment in inequality of access to public services and the development of human capital. Some current research studies the effects of epidemics on gender gaps in human capital investment, the economics of epidemics, and the impact of air pollution from gas flaring on human capital outcomes; with a focus on the ways in which institutions mitigate or exacerbate the impacts of climate change and environment on inequalities around gender and marginalized groups. Other works study the economics of prisons, the determinants of gender gaps in political participation, the links between taxation and public service provision and the drivers of gender gaps in labor markets in African countries. 

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