The Prison Business
The US Prison system houses literally millions of Americans. Americans who have been convicted of various crimes for with the American Judicial System feels incarceration is warranted. Yet it is this system that is being used increasingly as a Labor Force in which industries and corporations have a literal captive labor force and where legal recourse in response to exploitation economic and physical, is difficult, if not impossible to obtain. The prison industry is a big, multi-billion dollar business. Following are some statistics from the US Department of Justice on Incarcerated Americans:
5.9 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year end 1998 -- 2.9% of all U.S. adult residents.
State and Federal prison authorities had under their jurisdiction 1,333,561 inmates at midyear 1999: 1,254,577 were physically in their custody.
Local jails held or supervised 687,973 persons awaiting trial or serving a sentence at midyear 1999. About 82,000 of these were persons serving their sentence in the community.
Between 1990 and midyear 1999, the incarcerated population grew an average 5.8% annually. Population growth during the 12-month period ending June 30, 1999 was significantly lower in State prisons (up 3.1%) and local jails (up 2.3%) than in previous years. The Federal prison population rose by 9.9% (up 10,614 prisoners, the largest 12-month gain ever reported.
In 1979, Congress passed the Public Law 96-157 which created the Private Sector/Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program. This act allowed corporate America the ability to tap into this vast human resource, inmates. These programs have been given credit for a reduction in recidivism. This has been a primary justification for allowing inmates to work for pay while being incarcerated. And statistics show that this reduction actually seems to be the case. Inmates are, by law, supposed to receive a wage not less than the rate paid for work of a similar nature in the locality of which the work takes place. Yet, inmates in some states are making just over one dollar and hour. With a wink from the Federal Government, these practices continue and are even encouraged by Congress and the Senate. Even the Administration, who rode into office with the votes of minorities whose party historically has claimed to care about minority issues, has done nothing to see to it that prisoners, of whom a large part are minorities, are not the victims of this economic exploitation. Yet this trend is not surprising given the nature of law enforcement today. The nation is becoming a police state. Even the Nazis did not have many of the legal powers given which are given to Federal Law Enforcement agencies in America today.
In every state the National Guard flies low-level surveillance helicopter missions searching for drug dealers.
Federal Agencies are ignoring Subpoenas for documents which could exonerate defendants in 'National Security Courts'.
Citizens are undergoing various harassments by federal and State Law enforcement for the 'crime' of driving on interstate highways.
Inner city Buses are being boarded by DEA agents to search for drugs and conduct 'voluntary' searches on passengers.
The INS bursts into homes of foreigners, with axes and hammers, incarcerate them without charges for suspected 'terrorist' activities.
Police are using violence to curb peaceful demonstrations and then escort scab workers to replace higher paid employees.
Banks, telephone companies, utility companies, and other institutions are providing the Federal Government with information about their customers, without the customers consent.
The Federal Government is confiscating property from Americans who have been charged with nothing. The proceeds are auctioned off, or 'lost' in Federal warehouses.
Prisoners have become a valuable commodity and an increasing demand for them and their hard work is a key issue in the debate. The increasingly unconstitutional nature of our legal system (Supreme Court rulings included), make it far easier, using the law to obtain workers which are paid very low wages. The issue is an important one, as many of the nations largest corporations are now hopping onto the the prison labor bandwagon. Boeing for example uses prison labor in the making of its aircraft. Boeing, having made significant cuts in its work force in just about every area but has actually increased its work force in two areas 1)China and 2)Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe, Washington. The losers, it seems, are not only the poor, who are unable to afford competent legal representation to keep them out of the prison system, but the American workers who do not know the true nature of the beast. The nature of the system has two groups who are being victimized by the same system at odds with one another. White skilled workers who are losing their jobs to prison inmates in China and America, and minorities, who are being incarcerated for victimless crimes (of whom many guilt is questionable) are used as low paid labor in corporate factories for greater profit. This is all being done in a legal system that is calling, perhaps not coincidentally, for longer and longer sentences for most crimes.
Two main companies are behind involved in the private prison industry, The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Wackenhut Corporation. The CCA was formed by investors who were behind Kentucky Fried Chicken. Wackenhut was formed by a former FBI official in 1954 and is probably the largest and best known private security company in the world. These companies and others like them argue the merits of prison privatization. And indeed the merits are compelling. Yet the temptations of private prisons, and Large Corporations lobbying for longer prison sentences for relatively minor crimes is a danger that would spell doom to any sense of justice and fairness that the legal system is supposed to represent. Instead, in America, the purely economic interests of the lobbyists and campaign contributors are always heard loudest and best.
The prison labor force provides a corporate monsters dream. It provides 3 things that the regular labor force in America cannot provide.
1) It provides inexpensive labor that is fairly well skilled.
2) It provides a 'just in time' labor force that works only when it is needed and the corporation is not required to pay overhead for workers who are not needed.
3) It provides employees who are not able to bargain for better working conditions, better wages or any form of collective bargaining.
This is the tragic, ugly, yet very real aspect of the prison privatization and prison labor debate that is not often heard on the corporate media outlets, bought and paid for, to at least some extent by the exploiters. Unfortunately this is where the majority of the voting public gets its (mis)information.
With the extremely high concentration of African Americans in prison and the proclivity of law enforcement to focus on inner city blacks in drug cases rather than Wall Street, where drugs are also used in a very large degree and where the drug money is often laundered, the question of a new type of slavery must be asked. Is America ready to re institute slavery on a selective scale? Is Corporate America ready to deal with the issue honestly, apart from its balance sheets? Do African-Americans, or poor and economically challenged Americans even know what is going on?
These new 'slaves' are not slaves in a classical sense. Many actually earn money, one prisoner in California works 9 hour days and earns a whopping 45 cents an hour ($60/month). California no longer pretends that they are rehabilitating criminals and now appears simply wants to keep inmates occupied and productive. The scene of this type of exploitation is played out all over the nation. And prison officials are pushing the limits. One Chicago area prison secretly shipped prisoners to a Toys-R-Us to stock shelves, only a protest by the Union stopped the practice. Wackenhut pushed the envelope in Texas when it refused to negotiate with labor in Texas, as the Law requires before contracting with a local business. These companies are vying to create demand, that demand is for criminals. Criminals to man their factories and industries.
and justice be damned.