Our 14-month-long investigation into these modern-day debtors prisons exposes how Mississippi locks people into prison-like work camps to pay off fines, fees and restitution to victims from felony convictions. The inmates are placed into low-wage, sometimes dangerous jobs, while Mississippi Department of Corrections handles their paychecks, taking the first cut in “room and board” and transportation costs.

Some people spent years earning their freedom.

This investigation was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, the USA TODAY-Network, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. The Marshall Project is a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system; sign up for The Marshall Project’s newsletters, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

The tip we got at Mississippi Today seemed a little unlikely: a woman in state prison was also working at McDonald’s — and not voluntarily. But sure enough, we found her. Then we found hundreds like her because of the state’s restitution center program.