Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Friday, February 1, 2013

Slave Labor in the USA

Private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and G4S sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T and IBM.

"A new report concludes that private prison companies have not only benefited from increased incarceration, they have also helped fuel it... The two largest private prison corporations, Correction Corporations of America and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut), raked in a combined $2.9 billion in revenue in 2010."

American prisoners produce:
* 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, ID tags etc. for the military
* 93 percent of all domestically produced paints
* 36 percent of domestically produced home appliances
* 21 percent of office furniture
* 1 out of 30 U.S. men aged 20-34 are behind bars
* For black men of the same age group, it's 1 out 9
Info from [http://www.brasschecktv.com/videos/government-corruption-1/made-in-the-usa---by-prisoner-labor.html]

2012-03-20 "Private prisons – the best investment in America?" from "RT.com"
If you’re looking to make a buck but gambling isn’t your cup of tea, a billion-dollar business opportunity awaits you still. The largest for-profit private prison operators in America have a sales pitch, and boy should you hear it.

2012-07-06 "How US prison labour pads corporate profits at taxpayers' expense; Thanks to rightwing lobbying, companies can use a loophole to exploit a scheme designed to give offenders work experience" by Sadhbh Walshe [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/06/prison-labor-pads-corporate-profits-taxpayers-expense]

2011-08-08 "Prisoners: America's New Cheap Labor (ALEC Exposed)" [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWg-rLYcO7o]

2011-10-03 "Big Business Or Slave Labor? What Prisoners Make In Jail" [http://newsone.com/1562805/prison-labor-statistics-wiki/]

2011-07-21 "21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor; In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit" [http://www.alternet.org/story/151732/21st-century_slaves%3A_how_corporations_exploit_prison_labor]

2012-05-01 "How US drug laws have created a new racial caste system [Infographic]" by Michelle Schusterman [http://matadornetwork.com/change/how-us-drug-laws-have-created-a-new-racial-caste-system-infographic/]

2013-01-27 "The Number of People in Private Prisons Has Grown By 1,664% in the Last 19 Years" by  Lisa Wade [http://www.policymic.com/articles/24142/the-number-of-people-in-private-prisons-has-grown-by-1-664-in-the-last-19-years]

2013-01-23 "Inmates claim private prison falsifies staff logs" by Rebecca Boone from "AP" [http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2013-01-23/inmates-claim-private-prison-falsifies-staff-logs]:
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Attorneys for inmates at Idaho's largest private prison say Corrections Corporation of America is falsifying staff logs to hide chronic understaffing.
The allegation was raised Friday in an amended lawsuit filed in Boise's U.S. District Court.
Attorneys for the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA have not yet responded to the amended lawsuit in court, and CCA spokesman Steve Owen said he couldn't discuss details of the litigation.
But Owen said the company's top priority was the safety of its staff, inmates and the communities it serves, and CCA is committed to providing Idaho's taxpayers with the highest quality corrections services.
"We have worked in close partnership with the Idaho Department of Corrections for more than a decade and in a reflection of the strength of that partnership, the state announced in July that it would expand its contract with our company to house up to 800 additional inmates," Owen wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke and the department's deputy chief of the contract services bureau, Pat Donaldson, both said they've seen no evidence of falsified staff reports. IDOC's contract monitors routinely review the staffing logs and overtime reports supplied by CCA and so far they've found nothing amiss, Donaldson said. A few months ago the department's contract monitors also began randomly checking to see if the security staffers at the Idaho Correctional Center matched those listed on the shift logs, and no discrepancies have been found, Donaldson said.
CCA runs the prison south of Boise under a contract with the state and that contract sets the minimum staffing requirements at the facility. In 2011, CCA agreed to increase the number of correctional officers working at the prison as part of a settlement agreement that ended another federal lawsuit alleging understaffing and rampant violence at the facility.
The new lawsuit was filed in November by a group of inmates who contend CCA is working with a few powerful prison gangs to control the facility south of Boise and cut back on staffing. The attorney for the inmates, T.J. Angstman, cited an investigative report from the Idaho Department of Correction that suggested gangs like the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals were able to wrest control from staff members after prison officials began housing members of the same gangs together in some cellblocks to reduce violent clashes.
In the amended complaint filed Friday, Angstman described a staffing scheme that the inmates claim the company is using to make it appear as if more correctional officers are on duty. The inmates contend fewer guards were on duty than were listed in the staff logs when some of them were attacked and stabbed by gang members in a brutal assault caught on the prison's security cameras.
"CCA has historically used inadequate staff to prevent or promptly stop violence against prisoners," Angstman wrote in the amended complaint. "... During the attempted murders, employees were being placed on the shift schedule who were not present within the building or who were actually working in other areas and in some cases were no longer employees of CCA. This was being done to fraudulently show the State of Idaho that ICC was fully staffed when it fact it was not and to hide culpability for the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs."
According to the lawsuit, guards at the prison usually work 12-hour shifts. The inmates contend that at the end of a shift, CCA managers would order the guards to work an additional half-hour or so of overtime, and that way their names would be on the following shift log as well, even if they only stayed for a small portion of that shift. As a result, the inmates contend in the lawsuit, some guard names are listed on the staff logs as working for 36 or even 48 hours straight.
"CCA engages in this Ghost Worker scheme in order to make an unfair profit from its contract with the State of Idaho at the expense of guards, society, and the inmates within their facilities," Angstman wrote in the amended lawsuit. "It is cheaper to hire and train less guards and pay a few hours of overtime then to hire and train a proper number of guards and pay them for the appropriate number of hours."

2013-02-08 "How Corporations Make Money from Prison Labor: They’re Happy to Have More Inmates" by Eric Hines from "TechyVille" [http://www.techyville.com/2013/02/news/how-corporations-make-money-from-prison-labor-theyre-happy-to-have-more-inmates/]:
From the inmate’s perspective, it’s more than frustrating. He’s worked construction for free for almost a year until a slot opens and he can finally make $.12 per hour. Inmates with more tenure might be making $100 per month to build things for Unicor, who only sells to government agencies at top dollar. Some can’t work and get $4.50 per month “maintenance allowance,” enough to buy deodorant and a candy bar.
A year ago they had little room but now three sets of bunk-beds cram six people together in a place designed for two. They once had four television rooms but those are being converted into more bed-space as well. All the while, the conversation is alive about how much money the prison is making off them.
The Bureau of Prisons and Department of Justice run state and federal prisons, both of whom point to the national budget. If asked, representatives for these prisons say that no one profits from the inmates, that the prison labor is to sustain and maintain the prison itself and that it is government funded.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), on the other hand, owns and manages over 65 correctional institutions and prisons at every level, representing over 91,000 beds in 20 states. According to the public financial information available, CCA received 43% of their total revenue from federal correctional and detention authorities. The remaining 57% would be profit derived from prison labor. In 2011 alone they generated $351.1 million in cash.
“We believe we have been successful in increasing the number of residents in our care and continue to pursue a number of initiatives intended to further increase our occupancy and revenue.” This statement from CCA’s 2011 Annual Report on Form 10-K is in line with what Aviva Shen writes for ThinkProgress.org on October 9, 2012. “Ohio sold the prison to CCA last year to help balance the state’s 2012-2013 budget, and CCA recently offered to buy another one in exchange for the state’s guarantee of 90% occupancy for 20 or 30 years.”
Some inmates at that Ohio prison were sleeping on the floor and the housing units continue to provide less than the 25 square feet of unencumbered space per person required by state law.
CCA is not the only company buying and building private prisons. Over 200 facilities in the United States are privately held and are playing the numbers game quite profitably. In 1970 there were 280,000 prisoners in the United States. By 2000 that number had grown to 2,000,000. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics site (bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov), at the end of 2011 “adult correctional authorities supervised about 6,977,700 offenders.” Read on and one can see that “about 2.9% of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34 adults) were under some form of correctional supervision.” 1 in every 50 adults were either on probation or parole while 1 in every 107 were incarcerated in prison or jail.

2012-07-27 "'Voluntary' Work Program Run in Private Detention Centers Pays Detained Immigrants $1 a Day"
by Yana Kunichoff from "Truthout"
(Photo: DIAC images / Flickr)

In the Stewart Detention Center in rural Lumpkin, Georgia, Pedro Guzman cleaned the communal areas, cooked, painted walls, ran paperwork and buffed floors. But Guzman was not brought into Stewart as an employee - he was a detained immigrant taking part in the detention center's "voluntary" work program.
"I didn't go more than a month without a job," said Guzman, who spent almost 20 months waiting, and working, inside Stewart while his immigration case was resolved.
In private prisons around the country, immigrants languishing in detention centers are being put to work by profit-making companies like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for far below the minimum wage. For doing a range of manual labor in the facility, the immigrants, many of whom are not legally permitted to work in the United States, are paid between $1-$3 a day.
The Obama administration's move away from the workplace raids of the Bush years and toward an increasing reliance on Secure Communities, which critics say  has functioned as a dragnet for immigrants who have committed low-level crimes or none at all, has flooded detention centers across the country.
Between 1996 and 2011, deportations increased by 400 percent and the Department of Homeland Security now has a daily detention capacity of 34,000 beds. Along with this trend has come the widespread privatization of the federal detention centers.
Guzman was paid only $1 a day for cleaning communal areas in the detention center. When he moved to working in the kitchen - "an 8 hour job and you do get your full 30 minute break" - his pay shifted to $3 a day.
Most of the work in Stewart was done by detainees, said Guzman, who was placed into deportation proceedings when a letter about his asylum case was sent to the wrong address. "Ninety percent of the jobs in CCA are run by detainees," he said of Stewart.
Immigrant rights advocates have called the voluntary work program another dehumanizing avenue for companies like CCA to profit from immigrants already in a vulnerable position.
"The whole nature of this program is problematic," said Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security and Immigrant Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. "At the end of the day, they are getting the detainees to work for a wage that is far below minimum wage and for the work that they would have had to hire personnel. Obviously they are deriving a profit whatever way you look at it."
"The detainees need the money, the phone cards are expensive ... and the food that they get is not enough to sustain themselves," said Shahshahani, editor of a "Prisoners of Profit," report about immigration detention centers in Georgia. "They really need the money to eke out somewhat of a normal existence."
If undocumented workers, the people that pick America's produce, mow its lawns, do its laundry, build its houses and cook in its restaurants, are not allowed to work legally in the United States, what are their labor protections when employed by a private detention company?

"Illegal" Workers Legalized in Detention -
According to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Jacqueline Stevens [http://www.governmentillegals.org/2011FOIA13921SlaveLabor.pdf], a professor of political science at Northwestern University, detainees in detention centers work in five main areas - recreation, processing, housing units, main hallway/traverse areas and the library.
At the facilities reviewed in the documents - Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Arizona; El Centro Service Processing Center in El Centro, California; Stewart Detention Center and Varick Detention Center in New York City - the maximum wage under the voluntary work program was $1 a day.
"Detainees that participate in the volunteer work program are required to work according to an assigned work schedule and to participate in all work related training," the FOIA request noted. The maximum amount of work detainees were allowed to do was eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) calls the voluntary work program "one method of managing detained aliens to give them an opportunity to be gainfully occupied on a voluntary basis." The program also contributes to the deportation program's "ability to successfully perform its detention mission."
Is there a loophole that allows CCA to use undocumented labor at below minimum wage to help run their detention centers, and what are the immigrants' rights as workers?
In response to the question above, a spokesperson at the Department of Labor directed questions about workers in immigration detention centers to ICE. ICE did not directly address the question of what their labor position was. Instead, ICE said that the workers were not employees:
"The Voluntary Work Program, under conditions of confinement, does not constitute employment and is done by detainees on a voluntary basis for a small stipend."
But some advocates say that this legal gray area covers something more sinister. Stevens, the Northwestern professor, said the voluntary work program is consistent with slave labor: "Forced to work at wages they can't negotiate and far below the wages Congress set."
"In any other context," she continued, "these private companies would be penalized for hiring people who don't have legal documents and paying them below the federal minimum wage."
The ICE spokesperson said a federally mandated precedent makes it legal for undocumented workers in detention centers to be paid. The average rate of pay for immigrants - $1 a day - was first set in the appropriations act for fiscal year 1979 and has held steady since. ICE considers the payment for work done by immigrants "allowances," according to a section of the US Code Classification tables, despite their undocumented status.

ICE Caps Its Payment for Detained Workers at $1 -
The amount ICE pays the contracting company for the immigrants it employs is capped at $1 even though "contract companies such as CCA may choose to provide a higher level of compensation." At Stewart, CCA's payment to Guzman of $3 a day for kitchen work makes it triple the ICE-mandated daily wage.
This payment was challenged in a 1990 lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which "establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State and local governments" and said that workers are entitled to a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
In the lawsuit, 16 immigrants at a detention center in Texas sued the then-Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), arguing that only being paid $1 a day violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The final ruling in the case by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld INS's right to pay detained workers only $1 a day. In the response, it noted that "alien detainees are not government 'employees' "and "the federal government usually authorizes the employment of aliens only under limited circumstances, none of which apply here."
Therefore, the ruling said, the detainees couldn't claim protection under the act because "alien detainees whose work is described by no statute authorizing use of taxpayers' money to pay government employees cannot claim such status." [http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/902/902.F2d.394.89-2487.html]
There are several treaties that try to govern the use of labor in detention. One is the Inter-American Principles on Detention, cited in a 2012 report on private prisons by the ACLU of Georgia, as saying [http://www.acluga.org/files/2713/3788/2900/Prisoners_of_Profit.pdf]: "All persons deprived of liberty shall have the right to work."
"This includes the right 'to receive a fair and equitable remuneration,' the report noted.
Then there is the 13th Amendment, which has been used as a basis for the allowance of prison labor - with an average pay that ranges from $0.93 a day to $1.25 an hour [http://www.alternet.org/world/151732/21st-century_slaves%3A_how_corporations_exploit_prison_labor/?page=entire] - though the fairness of this has also been challenged [http://prisonlaw.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/prison-labor-and-the-thirteenth-amendment/].
But Stevens noted that, even within the context of a corrections environment, an immigration offense is a civil one, and therefore the detention should not be punitive.
"Detention centers are not legal punishment," said Stevens. "They are for people who are trying to pursue their civil right to remain in the country."

The Money Earned by Detainees Makes Its Way Back to CCA -
Guzman said the work he did while detained at Stewart broke up the tedium of being locked up and the stress of dealing with his constantly delayed appeals. But he said there was another incentive to continue making the meager wage he got paid for working a 40-hour week in the kitchen.
"You would get paid once a week and it would go directly into your canteen money," said Guzman. And with that "you bought food, a calling card, a bar of soap, shampoo, toothbrush" - from the CCA-run store inside the detention center.
Steven said her research has shown that the primary reasons for detainees to take part in the voluntary work programs is "so that they can buy food and hygiene products. If they don't have relatives on the outside to pump up their commissary accounts then they'll buff floors."
If some of the money being paid to undocumented workers taking part in the voluntary work program goes back to CCA, how much are private prison companies earning from these workers?
Companies like CCA are paid a lump sum by ICE for housing detainees - and then from whatever costs they can cut on food, labor or facilities, comes their profits. CCA, "the nation's largest owner and operator of partnership correction and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states," had earnings before tax of $96.4 million for 2012.
"The colossal "savings" from paying people a small fraction of the legal wage makes possible these centers," wrote Stevens in a blog post on the voluntary work program in private detention centers [http://www.stateswithoutnations.blogspot.com/2012/05/snapdetainees-charge-slave-labor-at.html]. "How much exactly is being saved?"
According to Stevens' analysis of figures in her FOIA requests, the monthly payments from just one detention center break down like this:
"Each dollar is a day's payment's to one detainee, so July 2009 at 5,815 = 5815 individual days or shifts of labor. Not all of the shifts are 8 hours but they go up to that. If the range of hours worked for this example is 4-8 hours day, then the payments that should have been made for July 2009 under federal minimum wage laws would be $168,635 to $337,000. Again, what actually was paid was $5,815."
"In brief," said Stevens, "the ICE jails are paying people $1/day for work that minimum wage laws would require compensated at $29-$58/day."
This is only a small window on the earnings from this program. Among the questions CCA declined to answer, despite repeated requests for comment over a period of several weeks, was how widespread the voluntary work program was and how many immigrants were involved in it nationally.

ICE and CCA descriptions of the program stress the term "voluntary," but a recently released ACLU report shows otherwise, detailing instances of detained immigrants being forced to work at Stewart Detention Center:
Omar Ponce was subjected to disciplinary action for refusing to work and for organizing a work strike in 2010. He was in the segregation unit for a week before he had his disciplinary review hearing. Another detainee was threatened with segregation if he refused to work less than eight hours per day. This is not atypical.
In response, CCA representative Mike Machak said: "The incident described in the ACLU report was reported to CCA staff, was dealt with appropriately and was reported to ICE in accordance with detention standards and contract requirements."
Oversight, said Machak, is provided by "our longstanding government partner [ICE], including on-site ICE staff."

The Irony -
Critics of private detention like Bob Libal, a Texas organizer for Grassroots Leadership focusing on the expansion of the private federal detention system, stress the unfairness of people criminalized as workers detained and then made to work.
"I think it's pretty disturbing that private prison corporations are padding their bottom line by exploiting undocumented labor in their facilities," said Libal, "when it would be much more humane and beneficial for the sort of country as a whole to allow people to live and work outside of detention facilities while their immigration cases are processed."
It's an irony not lost on Guzman. "You will boot them out of the country because they don't have papers to work in the US," he said when asked about the issue, "but then you give them a job and you underpay them. Why are you underpaying them?"

2012-04-29 "Private Prison Corporations Are Modern Day Slave Traders; The Corrections Corporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an opportunity to become landlord, as well as manager, of a chunk of the American prison gulag" 
by Glen Ford from "Black Agenda Report" [http://www.alternet.org/story/155199/private_prison_corporations_are_modern_day_slave_traders]:
The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, earlier this year sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full. Plus, the corporate jailers demand a 20-year management contract, on top of the profits they expect to extract by spending less money per prisoner.
 For the last two years, the number of inmates held in state prisons has declined slightly, largely because the states are short on money. Crime, of course, has declined dramatically in the last 20 years, but that has never dampened the states’ appetites for warehousing ever more Black and brown bodies, and the federal prison system is still growing. However, the Corrections Corporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an historic opportunity to become the landlord, as well as the manager, of a big chunk of the American prison gulag.
The attempted prison grab is also defensive in nature. If private companies can gain both ownership and management of enough prisons, they can set the prices without open-bid competition for prison services, creating a guaranteed cost-plus monopoly like that which exists between the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex.
But, for a better analogy, we must go back to the American slave system, a thoroughly capitalist enterprise that reduced human beings to units of labor and sale. The Corrections Corporation of America’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission read very much like the documents of a slave-trader. Investors are warned that profits would go down if the demand for prisoners declines. That is, if the world’s largest police state shrinks, so does the corporate bottom line. Dangers to profitability include “relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws." The corporation spells it out: “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them." At the Corrections Corporation of America, human freedom is a dirty word.
But, there is something even more horrifying than the moral turpitude of the prison capitalists. If private companies are allowed to own the deeds to prisons, they are a big step closer to owning the people inside them. Many of the same politicians that created the system of mass Black incarceration over the past 40 years, would gladly hand over to private parties all responsibility for the human rights of inmates. The question of inmates' rights is hardly raised in the debate over prison privatization. This is a dialogue steeped in slavery and racial oppression. Just as the old slave markets were abolished, so must the Black American Gulag be dismantled – with no compensation to those who traffic in human beings.

2012-04-19 "American Gulag: A Lot More Than License Plates" 
by Lyric Hughes Hale from "" [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyric-hughes-hale/american-gulag-a-lot-more_1_b_1415459.html]:
The U.S. Civil War, which was fought to abolish slavery, was not really that long ago. My father tells the story of visiting the Higginsville home for Civil War veterans near his childhood home in Missouri. The Missouri River was a dividing line between North and South, and so when the war was finally over, many families had veterans -- and casualties -- on both sides. My father remembers watching two old soldiers, one Union, one Confederate, each dressed up in the remnants of their uniforms, having an argument that ended up with one attacking the other with a pair of crutches. Hearing this as a little girl was the first time the Civil War seemed real to me. It is a vivid reminder of the close links that bind this country to its history of slavery, which still haunts our national conscience.
As I recently discovered, we maintain what can be only be called legalized slavery today -- the utilization of prison labour for public and private profit. Many, if not most, of these inmates are themselves the descendants of slaves. And they are making fewer license plates and more defense electronics and oil spill cleanups. Today prison labor is a multibillion-dollar business in the U.S. We also have the highest prison population in the world. Are economic incentives at the heart of our sky-high incarceration rates?
History can offer us a guide to answer this question. In Britain, slavery was abolished in 1833, earlier than in the U.S. In spite of its economic lure, it was outlawed, at least in part, because of the persuasive voices of inspired political leaders and artists. The painting The Slave Ship, a J.M.W. Turner masterpiece, depicts the famous episode of the British ship the Zong in 1781. One hundred thirty-two African slaves headed for sale in the United States were deliberately thrown overboard and perished mid-sea, due to a lack of drinking water on board. In his new book, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery, Professor James Walvin concludes that this event, and the public outcry against it, was the turning point that resulted in the end of the slave trade in Britain. The U.S. was not so lucky, or perhaps, the entrenched interests were too deep, and so a much bloodier battle that ended 600,000 lives ensued, and it took an additional 30 years to abolish slavery.
It is worthwhile to study this history, and to hold its lessons close, because slavery remains in other forms, if not by name, in the 21st century. Mauritania still has a slave population that is some 18 percent of its population, about a half a million people -- although it is technically illegal. The poverty and harshness of the Western Sahara and lack of economic alternatives make it a difficult practice to eradicate. We might expect this in the Third World, but we have versions of it in the U.S. Beyond the plight of the working poor, in the U.S. the practice of involuntary labor continues in our prisons, without much public scrutiny. This practice has evolved since the Civil War, particularly in the South, for historical reasons. Former slaves were incarcerated on minor or fabricated charges for extended periods of time so they could work as inmate labourers for the profit of the state and its contractors.
"In the nineteenth century, Texas leased its penitentiary (which survives today as the Huntsville "Walls" unit) to private contractors. For a few dollars per month per convict, the contractors were allowed to sublease their charges to farmers, tanners, and other businessmen. It was not long before the inmates began to appear in poor clothing and without shoes. Worked mercilessly, most convicts died within seven years of their incarceration. Escapes and escape attempts were frequent. Conditions were so horrid that some inmates were driven to suicide while other maimed themselves to get out of work or as a pathetic form of protest." - John DiIulio, Jr. The Duty to Govern, 1990
Eventually, the prisoner-for-lease system became such a scandal that it was outlawed 100 years ago. But in the 1980s, conditions were ripe for reversion. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery contains a loophole that allows the exploitation of prison labor:
Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Today, the U.S. prison system delivers profits to both government corporations and private enterprises in several ways: 1) Through the use of inmate labor to produce goods and services in federal and state prisons 2) Through the contracting of this labor to private companies at below-market wages and 3) By privatization of the prisons and detainment centers themselves. Given these perverse incentives to maintain a high inmate population, is it any wonder that the number of prisoners and the length of their sentences -- Americans comprise 5 percent of the world's total population but 25 percent of the world's prison population -- have skyrocketed since privatization began in 1984?
One might ask if this population surge could be due to a sudden increase in violent crime in America. A much smaller percentage of prisoners than one would imagine have histories of violence. Just 3 percent of those in Federal prisons, and a third of those in state prisons, have been convicted of violent crimes. A majority of those in city and county prisons are merely awaiting trial and cannot make bail. As any policeman will tell you, much criminality would be eliminated if drug laws were changed. Moreover, of the total prison population, it is estimated that 16 percent are suffering from mental illness, according to Vicky Pelaez in Global Research in Canada. And did I mention, the vast majority are black males?
What is the failure of our society that has led to the forced segregation from society of so many of our citizens, many of whom the descendants of slaves, on this scale? In 1860, the U.S. had 4 million slaves. Now, according to Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (Jan. 30, 2012) [http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/01/30/120130crat_atlarge_gopnik]:  [begin excerpt] Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today -- perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system -- in prison, on probation, or on parole -- than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under "correctional supervision" in America -- more than six million -- than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. [end excerpt]
America has now created its own Gulag and it makes much more than just license plates. Of the 2.3 million prisoners now being held, more than 100,000 work in federal and state prison industry programs. This doesn't mean the usual cooking, cleaning and peeling potatoes, but work that produces products for sale -- about $2.4 billion dollars annually and has its own trade shows. UNICOR, the trade name of the government-owned Federal Prison Industries, cites the following products on its website [http://www.unicor.gov/]:
The government, particularly the Department of Defense, is the biggest customer for the federal prison labor. Most military clothing, furniture, and helmets are made by Federal inmates. It is very likely that they made the furniture at your local post office. Calling directory assistance? You might well be talking to a felon. Clearly, UNICOR has expanded beyond clothing and furniture. Look at just one category, electro-optical assemblies: [begin excerpt]
Our electro-optical and circuit board assemblies, and electrical connectors are used around the world and have broad applications in missile guidance, tactical combat and emergency communications, radar, and avionic and submarine control systems. UNICOR/FPI is highly proficient in electrical and fiber optic cable convergence technology, which is used in applications requiring faster transmission of signals over longer distance and with less weight. Our electro-optical cable assemblies are used in avionic and missile controls, submarine navigation, and tactical observation and targeting systems in fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and other armored vehicles. Our expertise in manufacturing electro-optical assemblies is proven in numerous programs, such as the Bradley eye-safe laser rangefinder and the Patriot missile guidance system. [end excerpt]
We are talking guided missile components here! UNICOR had revenues of about $900 million in fiscal year 2011, of which 7 percent went to pay inmates. According to my estimates based on their annual report, this averages $3,000 per inmate, at least half of which must be used for fines, victim restitution and family support. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year (there are no holidays in prison) that would amount to pay of about 75 cents per hour, which "may be spent in the prison commissaries," according to the UNICOR annual report. This puts the federal prison worker on par with his Chinese counterpart. No wonder this labor group is attractive to industry: no unions, OHSA, health care or retirement funds to fret about. As UNICOR boasts on its website: "All the benefits of domestic outsourcing at offshore prices. It's the best kept secret in outsourcing!" Actually, it is even better -- although we will not accept imports from Chinese laogai, or prison factories, there is no U.S. law that prevents export of our prison labor products.
Federal prison workers, however, are the envy of state inmates, some of whom earn nothing for 60-plus-hour weeks. Texas and Georgia offer no compensation at all. (It is no surprise that these states have highly privatized prison industries as well.) In The Nation, Abe Louise Young writes about the use of Louisiana state prison labor to clean up the toxic waste that resulted from the BP oil spill [http://www.thenation.com/article/37828/bp-hires-prison-labor-clean-spill-while-coastal-residents-struggle]: [begin excerpt]
Work release inmates are required to work for up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes averaging seventy-two hours per week. These are long hours for performing what may arguably be the most toxic job in America. Although the dangers of mixed oil and dispersant exposure are largely unknown, the chemicals in crude oil can damage every system in the body, as well as cell structures and DNA. [end excerpt]
Inmates can't pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned "good time." The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: "If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of." This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer.
This kind of cooperation is enabled by PIE (Prison Industry Enhancement), a program run by the Department of Justice, which allows both UNICOR at the Federal level and state prisons to partner with private enterprise.
It is not just the government prisons that have perverse incentives for maintaining high prison populations. It is the very business of warehousing human beings which was privatized in the mid-80s that is to me the most disturbing. Here is a map of private prisons in Texas created by the website Texas Prison Bid'ness [http://www.texasprisonbidness.org/]:

It just seems to me that judicial punishment is one of those functions that is uniquely the business of the state, and that somehow it is immoral for anyone to profit from this. In fact, two big players, CCA and GEO, weren't doing all that well until 9/11. Since that time, they have also been building immigration detention centers at a very fast pace. No secret that privatization has therefore had the greatest momentum in the border states, including Vermont. It is hard to forget the awful "Cash for Kids" debacle in which two judges (now themselves recently sentenced to prison) took kickbacks for sending children to for-profit juvenile detention centers. Dave Reutter in Prison Legal News [https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/default.aspx] quotes Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research: "Privatization just doesn't work" he stated. "It's a way for politicians to throw business to their friends. "
A compelling economic argument against prison labor is that it competes unfairly with free labor. Diane Cardwell writes in the New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/business/private-businesses-fight-federal-prisons-for-contracts.html?pagewanted=all] that UNICOR is now getting into production of solar panels and other forms of alternative energy.
"This is a threat to not just established industries; it's a threat to emerging industries," said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who is the lead sponsor of the proposed overhaul legislation. "If China did this -- having their prisoners work at subpar wages in prisons -- we would be screaming bloody murder."
There is now pending legislation to create a wage floor for prison inmates, as well as require basic safety standards. The discussion is not just about protecting inmates. In an era of high unemployment, jobs matter. Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina has said [http://jones.house.gov/press-release/jones-introduces-bill-reign-dod-use-prison-labor-and-boost-american-jobs], "It is simply wrong for the U.S. government to administer a military procurement policy that favors giving jobs to felons over law-abiding Americans. That is especially true during these difficult economic times." There is also concern about quality control for defense-related production. Reportedly, 42 percent of UNICOR's orders overall were delivered late.
What are the benefits to society of prison labor? I have read articles that it helps and doesn't help recidivism. That there are better ways to prepare inmates for life after jail, such as education, training, and addiction counseling. What is the overall impact on the economy? According to Jeffrey Kling and Alan Krueger of Princeton University and NBER, 100 percent utilization of prison inmate labor would result in a rather small economic benefit -- 0.2 percent of GDP at most. Because this is mostly unskilled labor it could, in fact, reduce the wages of high school dropouts in the private workforce by 5 percent -- which would increase the overall rate of poverty. (Note, however, that some estimates suggest that people with wages under $13,000 spend 9 percent of their income on buying lottery tickets.)
Kling and Krueger conclude: "In concert with privatization, we suggest that inmate workers be covered by all relevant labor legislation that applies to private sector firms: including the right to form a union, fair labor standards, and workplace safety regulations."That is the very minimum that must be done. We need to do some national soul-searching about all of the reasons we have so many people in jail. But it is an election year -- and felons don't vote -- so the probability is high that nothing will be done. But let's begin the discussion. As I finish this article, by weird coincidence, police cars are flashing their lights outside my house. A young man, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, crashed into the gate of our driveway as he was pursued by an unmarked car for speeding. I saw him as he was led away in handcuffs, in tears. I hope his parents have a very good lawyer.

2011-06-06 "PART 1: The Pentagon & slave labor in U.S. prisons"
by Sara Flounders [http://www.workers.org/2011/us/pentagon_0609/]:
Prisoners earning 23 cents an hour in U.S. federal prisons are manufacturing high-tech electronic components for Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles, and other guided missile systems. A March article by journalist and financial researcher Justin Rohrlich of World in Review is worth a closer look at the full implications of this ominous development. (minyanville.com)
The expanding use of prison industries, which pay slave wages, as a way to increase profits for giant military corporations is a frontal attack on the rights of all workers.
Prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — also makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter. Prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm to 300-mm battleship anti-aircraft guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder. Prisoners recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.
Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.
The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit. For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.

Increased profits, unhealthy workplaces -
However, the Pentagon is not the only buyer. U.S. corporations are the world’s largest arms dealers, while weapons and aircraft are the largest U.S. export. The U.S. State Department, Department of Defense and diplomats pressure NATO members and dependent countries around the world into multibillion-dollar weapons purchases that generate further corporate profits, often leaving many countries mired in enormous debt.
But the fact that the capitalist state has found yet another way to drastically undercut union workers’ wages and ensure still higher profits to military corporations — whose weapons wreak such havoc around the world — is an ominous development.
According to CNN Money, the U.S. highly skilled and well-paid “aerospace workforce has shrunk by 40 percent in the past 20 years. Like many other industries, the defense sector has been quietly outsourcing production (and jobs) to cheaper labor markets overseas.” (Feb. 24) It seems that with prison labor, these jobs are also being outsourced domestically.
Meanwhile, dividends and options to a handful of top stockholders and CEO compensation packages at top military corporations exceed the total payment of wages to the more than 23,000 imprisoned workers who produce UNICOR parts.
The prison work is often dangerous, toxic and unprotected. At FCC Victorville, a federal prison located at an old U.S. airbase, prisoners clean, overhaul and reassemble tanks and military vehicles returned from combat and coated in toxic spent ammunition, depleted uranium dust and chemicals.
A federal lawsuit by prisoners, food service workers and family members at FCI Marianna, a minimum security women’s prison in Florida, cited that toxic dust containing lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic poisoned those who worked at UNICOR’s computer and electronic recycling factory.
Prisoners there worked covered in dust, without safety equipment, protective gear, air filtration or masks. The suit explained that the toxic dust caused severe damage to nervous and reproductive systems, lung damage, bone disease, kidney failure, blood clots, cancers, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, memory lapses, skin lesions, and circulatory and respiratory problems. This is one of eight federal prison recycling facilities — employing 1,200 prisoners — run by UNICOR.
After years of complaints the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Occupational Health Service concurred in October 2008 that UNICOR has jeopardized the lives and safety of untold numbers of prisoners and staff. (Prison Legal News, Feb. 17, 2009)

Racism & U.S. prisons -
The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. imprisons more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned in the world.
There are more than 2.3 million prisoners in federal, state and local prisons in the U.S. Twice as many people are under probation and parole. Many tens of thousands of other prisoners include undocumented immigrants facing deportation, prisoners awaiting sentencing and youthful offenders in categories considered reform or detention.
The racism that pervades every aspect of life in capitalist society — from jobs, income and housing to education and opportunity — is most brutally reflected by who is caught up in the U.S. prison system.
More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color. Seventy percent of those being sentenced under the three strikes law in California — which requires mandatory sentences of 25 years to life after three felony convictions — are people of color. Nationally, 39 percent of African-American men in their 20s are in prison, on probation or on parole. The U.S. imprisons more people than South Africa did under apartheid. (Linn Washington, “Incarceration Nation”)
The U.S. prison population is not only the largest in the world — it is relentlessly growing. The U.S. prison population is more than five times what it was 30 years ago.
In 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president, there were 400,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today the number exceeds 2.3 million. In California the prison population soared from 23,264 in 1980 to 170,000 in 2010. The Pennsylvania prison population climbed from 8,243 to 51,487 in those same years. There are now more African-American men in prison, on probation or on parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began, according to Law Professor Michelle Alexander in the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Today a staggering 1-in-100 adults in the U.S. are living behind bars. But this crime, which breaks families and destroys lives, is not evenly distributed. In major urban areas one-half of Black men have criminal records. This means life-long, legalized discrimination in student loans, financial assistance, access to public housing, mortgages, the right to vote and, of course, the possibility of being hired for a job.

Next: Slave labor, private prisons and the prison-industrial complex.

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