Generally speaking, it no longer makes economic sense to use chaingangs for labor. You can't replace the market with a socialized slave labor
industry. You can't lay off law-abiding citizens who deserve to earn a living so that felons can earn a living. That's punishing the innocent more
than the guilty. So you can put cons to work in one of two ways: 1. On projects that nobody in the market is going to be given otherwise. 2. Providing
for their own welfare, such as on a prison farm.
The first instance is not as viable as it used to be because while chain gangs were a perfect 1-1 replacement for slave crews, they can't even come
close to the efficiency of machines or skilled laborers. This eliminates 90%+ of the jobs chain gangs could even possibly be used for.
Then there's the moral aspect to consider. If the state profits from imprisoning people, the state has a motive beyond law and order to imprison
people. This was seen in the South after the civil war. Jim Crow kept Southern prisons stocked with "constitutionally allowable" replacements for
slaves, most of them black. I believe the American tendency to distrust government should operate here, causing us to seek an efficient but not
profitable prison system.
It makes good sense that prisoners should work to feed themselves- let them grow their own food. Let them dig their own septic tanks. Hell, put the
worst of them on a big treadmill to provide electricity for the warden's office for all I care. Just take precautions against corruption, which means
not making an industry out of it. We already have a prison industry in America, and it's not serving the public good. Our prison system is about as
big and expensive as they come.
There were 1.5 million drug arrests in 1995, that's 10% of all arrests in 1995.
In 1995 there were about 1.4 million people incarcerated in America. 22% of them were incarcerated for drug offenses. We can therefore infer that 1 in
5 drug offenders did state or federal time in 1995. Each of those costed over $20,000 annually. You don't do state time for under a year: that's
county jail. Therefore we know that in 1995, drug incarcerations cost America 6,000,000,000 in 1995. (incidentally i double-checked that because it
seemed like a lot, but sure enough, we spend some 54 Billion on prisons)
Probation instead of prison would have reduced that 6 Billion dollars to only .9 Billion, and 1000 dollar fines would further reduce that to .6
billion- 1/10th of current costs.
My point? Why would we be spending so much money, except that there's something in it for somebody and that is influencing the system. Bring in
chaingangs and the problem gets worse rather than better. Chain gangs would stand in the way of good policy. Stick to prison farms.