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How ending crime in America might devastate the economy

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America’s prison system is “deeply implicated in all sorts of other aspects of ordinary political life.” That’s the message this month’s Econ Extra Credit documentary, “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes,” is meant to convey, according to filmmaker Brett Story. In conversation with David Brancaccio, Story reflects on how the prison economy has revived some parts of rural America, as well as how prisoners have become a valuable — if highly underpaid — part of the American labor force.

Hadar Aviram, a law professor and author of “Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment,” said prisoners engage in many occupations while they’re serving time, often learning skills and developing strengths and perspectives of value to the labor market. Unfortunately, there’s still widespread discrimination by employers against people with criminal records, which makes it difficult to find work upon release from prison. “At any given moment, 1% of the entire population of the United States is incarcerated,” Aviram said. “We have a lot of people who actually have acquired skills and strengths where they were that we can use in the marketplace.” Listen to her full interview with “Marketplace Morning Report” here.

Don’t forget: We want to hear from you about this month’s documentary! Email us your thoughts and reactions at We’ll feature some of your responses in next week’s newsletter.

“The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” is available to stream for free on Kanopy and Topic (if you sign up for a trial membership) and for a small fee on various other streaming services. PLEASE NOTE: Certain scenes contain disturbing language.

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