Ashurst–Sumners Act

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The Ashurst–Sumners Act, Pub. L. No. 74-215, 49 Stat. 494 (1935), codified at 18 U.S.C. §§1761-62, is a United States Act of Congress that made it unlawful to knowingly transport in interstate or foreign commerce goods made by convict labor. Certain exceptions are provided for agricultural commodities, parts for the repair of farm machinery, commodities manufactured in a Federal, District of Columbia, or State institution for use by the Federal Government, or by the District of Columbia, or by any State or Political subdivision of a State or not-for-profit organizations. The Act is currently reflected in United States Code Title 18 Sections 1761-1762 which provide in part:

"Whoever knowingly transports in interstate commerce or from any foreign country into the United States any goods, wares, or merchandise manufactured, produced, or mined, wholly or in part by convicts or prisoners, except convicts or prisoners on parole, supervised release, or probation, or in any penal or reformatory institution, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

The constitutionality of the act was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Kentucky Whip & Collar Co. v. Illinois Central R. Co., 299 U.S. 334 (1937).[1]

The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program, created by Congress in 1979, provides another exception from the Act. It exempts certified state and local departments of corrections from normal restrictions on the sale of prisoner-made goods in interstate commerce.[2]

The Ashurst–Sumners Act limits prison industries and prison labor while preserving a double government monopoly over the manufacturing and sale of prison-made goods and prison labor. Governments can purchase their needs from prison industries, but they do not have to purchase prison-made goods. Prisons in the 1800s made money, while today's prisons are extremely expensive. The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program only substitutes different but equally burdensome limitations. In the 1800s, several state prisons made money, and one New York prison made profits four times greater than the cost of running the prison.[citation needed]

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