The U.S. has often taken China and other repressive regimes to task
for using cheap/free slave labor or prison labor. Right wing sites, such as
do so frequently.
Any guesses as to which other, closer-to-home country, has a very large
and still growing prison labor industry?
That's right. Us. Or U.S. if you like extra periods.
The federal government has the Federal Prison Industries (FPI) which
...a wholly-owned government corporation established in 1934, under an Act
of Congress and an Executive Order which is now incorporated in Chapter 307,
Section 4121-4128, Title 18, United States Code. FPI was set up to provide
paid employment to inmates, primarily in the manufacture of products for use
by the federal government. In 1978, FPI adopted the trade name UNICOR, under
which it does most of its business. The products made at these institutions
are produced in strict conformance with Federal or other applicable specifications.
Nor is FPI the only prison labor organization--most states have similar
programs for their state prisons. In fact, one
source lists 39 different states with prison industry programs, in addition
to the Fed's UNICOR.
State prison industry examples:
Prison Industry Authority (PIA) of California
of Delaware Prison Industry
Maine Department of
Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation
Nevada's Department of Corrections,
SILVER STATE INDUSTRIES
South Dakota State Prison Industries
In fact, there's a National Correctional
Industries Association (NCIA), described as:
...an international nonprofit professional association, whose mission is
to promote excellence and credibility in correctional industries through professional
development and innovative business solutions. The NCIA is an affiliate body
of the American Correctional Association, the Jail Industries Association
and The Workman Fund.
NCIA's members include all 50 state correctional industry agencies, Federal
Prison Industries, foreign correctional industry agencies and numerous city
and county jail industry programs. Local jurisdictions are assigned to one
of five regions to promote continuous interaction and the promulgation of
the mission of the organization within the region. Private sector companies
that work in partnership with correctional industries both as suppliers/vendors
and as partners in apprenticeship and work programs are among NCIA's members.
Correctional industries are the work programs in correctional facilities
that provide real world work experience to inmates, teaching them transferable
job skills and work ethic to help them prepare for reentry and employment.
They are the only self-funded reentry support program in corrections - no
appropriated funds are required for their operation since they rely on revolving
funds from the income generated by the sale of the products and services they
produce through the program.
NCIA was founded in 1941 as the Penal Industries Association (PIA), an affiliate
of the American Prison Association (APA). In 1954, when the APA adopted the
name, "American Correctional Association (ACA)," the PIA changed
its name accordingly to Correctional Industries Association (CIA). In January
2002, the Board of Directors voted to change the name to that currently in
use today. Property and affairs are managed by a National Office with oversight
by a board of directors duly elected by the association membership. Business
and board meetings of the association are open to all members.
The National Correctional Industries Association encourages networking and
joint ventures among correctional industries that foster an affirmative spirit
of cooperation, including affording one another professional courtesies with
regard to interstate activities.
AND, the Dept. of Justice has
a program to certify state and local programs:
Under the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), the
Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) certifies that local or state prison industry
programs meet all the necessary requirements to be exempt from federal restrictions
on prisoner-made goods in interstate commerce. The program places inmates
in realistic work environments, pays them prevailing wages, and gives them
a chance to develop marketable skills that will increase their potential for
rehabilitation and meaningful employment on release.
The technical assistance provider under PIECP, the National Correctional
Industries Association, works with the public and private sectors to provide
the latest information and strategies on prison industries and to enhance
certificate holders' prison industry programs.
Currently, 37 state and 4 county-based certified correctional industry programs
operate in the United States, and these programs manage at least 175 business
partnerships with private industry. As of September 30, 2005, PIECP generated
more than $33 million for victims' programs, $21 million for inmate family
support, $97.5 million for correctional institution room and board costs,
and $46.6 million in state and federal taxes.
Legislation: PIECP originally was authorized under the Justice System Improvement
Act of 1979 (Public Law 96-157, Sec. 827). The Crime Control Act of 1990 (Public
Law 101-647) authorizes continuation of the program indefinitely.
And trust me, the prison industry is an industry. They even have industry trade
shows, as reported
in the SF Bay View (see photo and caption).
While these prison industries were at one time concentrating on, or even legally
limited to, supplying material to governments and government agencies, that's
changing. It is pretty common now for prison industries to sell to private customers,
a policy often based on
a desire to "grow" the industry.. Now, according to the source
in the preceding link:
Inmates also book rooms for motel chains and take reservations for Trans
World Airlines (yes, they do take credit card numbers--and yes, there have
been embarrassing incidents). In Kansas, they process Social Security numbers.
In Iowa, they work for the Department of Tourism's Information Bureau, boosting
the same state that locked them away. A number of states, among them Iowa
and Nebraska, rent their inmates out as telemarketers.
is investing in this prison labor force?
Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison
labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons.
The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM,
Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq,
Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern
Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and
many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation
by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million
to $1.31 billion.
Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their
work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the
minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents
per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month.
The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive
50 cents per hour for what they call "highly skilled positions."
At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons
to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours
a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
One view of this is that the government enacts harsh drug laws, incarcerates
those who violate them, uses the incarcerated to produce cheap products that
put private businesses out of work, swelling the ranks of the hopeless and unemployed,
who are more likely to use illegal drugs, for which they will get arrested and
sent to prison, where they may have an opportunity to put their former private
industry skills to use for the prison labor industry. The suspicious/cynical
would find a correlation between the growth of prison populations from 300,000
in 1972 to 2,000,000 in 2000 and the explosion in the use of prison labor in
And keep in mind that private companies making a fortune off prison labor are
not funding the housing and care of that labor force. You are.
Apart from the inherent ugliness of using prison labor--there must be a reason
we are so outraged as a nation by other nations using slave labor and prison
labor--what effect does this have on private manufacturers? Does anyone in their
right mind think that a private American manufacturer can compete with a prison
industry enterprise? Many attribute the demise of the American furniture industry
in part to the advent and expansion of prison furniture making. Ditto footwear
and garment making, after the massive military purchasing went more and more
to prison industries.
Congressional efforts to require the common sense minimum--that the fed prison
industry be required to compete with private companies for the government's
shot down in 2005. That's in a Republican-controlled House, which had previously
approved the competition law, only to have it shot down in the Republican-controlled
In fact, prison industries have been known to fund studies of the effects of
prison industries and, surprise, they usually turn out to show that the prison
industry is beneficial. For example, a
2002 study commissioned by the PIA of California reported that "Prison
industries have a positive ripple effect for California's economy."
All hail private enterprise, except when......
You would think that the far right's outrage machine would be at least a little
outraged by this, wouldn't you? But I haven't heard a peep from them. Not a
peep. Even when authors deploring China's prison labor policies acknowledge
that the U.S. also uses prison labor, there is a tendency to focus on how much
harsher the Chinese system is. http://www.epm.org/articles/laogai.html]
While true, that seems to me to let the U.S. off the hook much too quickly and
easily. Especially since these prison industry programs amount to a huge public
governmental enterprise, and the right supposedly abhors government enterprise,
especially when it's killing private enterprise.
Oh, wait, maybe this all explains the current mania to privatize prisons. That
simple device would turn all this "public enterprise" into "private
enterprise" with the signing of the prison operation contract, wouldn't
Cheap labor as close as the nearest jail
The half of Louisiana’s prisoners who are housed in parish jails continue
to be used much as African-American slaves were used in the antebellum south
– like cattle. As an interviewee describes them in this article, they
are “warm bodies” to staff pepper plants, cocktail parties, barbeques
and even funerals – at less than minimum wage. Meanwhile, the communities
which benefit laugh off the practice:
“If you talk to people around here, it is jokingly referred to as rent-a-convict,”
said Michael Brewer, a lawyer and former public defender in Alexandria, in
central Louisiana. “There’s something offensive about that. It’s
almost like a form of slavery.”
[Posted By Szamko]
By Adam Nossiter
Republished from the Wilmington
Parish jails of Louisiana provide communities with convenient and
cheap labor, letting the locals live the high-life
At barbecues, ballgames and funerals, cotton gins, service stations, the First
Baptist Church, the pepper-sauce factory and the local private school - the
men in orange are everywhere.
Many people in East Carroll Parish, as counties here are known, say they could
not get by without their inmates, who make up more than 10 percent of its population
and most of its labor force. They are dirt-cheap, sometimes free, always compliant,
ever-ready and disposable.
You just call up the sheriff, and presto, inmates are headed your way. "They
bring me warm bodies, 10 warm bodies in the morning," said Grady Brown,
owner of the Panola Pepper Corp. "They do anything you ask them to do."
It is an ideal arrangement, many in this parish say.
"You call them up, they drop them off, and they pick them up in the afternoon,"
said Paul Chapple, owner of a service station.
National prison experts say that only Louisiana allows citizens to use inmate
labor on such a widespread scale, under the supervision of local sheriffs. The
state has the nation's highest incarceration rate, and East Carroll Parish,
a forlorn jurisdiction of 8,700 people along the Mississippi River in the remote
northeastern corner of Louisiana, has one of the highest rates in the state.
As a result, it is here that the nation's culture of incarceration achieves
a kind of ultimate synthesis with the local economy. The prison system converts
a substantial segment of the population into a commodity that is in desperately
short supply - cheap labor - and local jail inmates are integrated into every
aspect of economic life.
The practice is both an odd vestige of the abusive convict-lease system that
began in the South around Reconstruction and an outgrowth of Louisiana's penchant
for stuffing state inmates into parish jails - far more than in any other state.
Nowhere else would sheriffs have so many inmates readily at hand, creating a
potent political tool come election time, and one that keeps them popular in
Sometimes the men get paid - minimum wage, for instance, working for Brown.
But by the time the sheriff takes his cut, which includes board, travel expenses
and clothes, they wind up with considerably less than half of that, inmates
The rules are loose and give the sheriffs broad discretion. State law dictates
only which inmates may go out into the world (mostly those nearing the end of
their sentences) and how much the authorities get to keep of an inmate's wages,
not the type of work he can perform. There is little in the state rules to limit
the potential for a sheriff to use inmate labor to curry favor or to reap personal
"If you talk to people around here, it is jokingly referred to as rent-a-convict,"
said Michael Brewer, a lawyer and former public defender in Alexandria, in central
Louisiana. "There's something offensive about that. It's almost like a
form of slavery."
That is not a view often expressed in East Carroll Parish.
"I've been at cocktail parties where people laugh about it," said
Jacques Roy, another Alexandria lawyer. "People in Alexandria clamor for
it. It's cheaper. I've always envisioned it as a who-you-know kind of thing."
The prisoners are not compelled to work, but several interviewed said they
welcomed the chance to get out of the crowded jail, at least during the day.
Nearly half of Louisiana's prisoners are housed in small parish jails, a policy
that saves the state from building new prisons and is lucrative for Louisiana
sheriffs, handsomely compensated for the privilege.
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