Thursday, August 11, 2011

Captive Workers

In 1980, there were only a half a million people incarcerated in America. Now that number has quadrupled to nearly 2.4 million. One out of every 100 American adults is in prison, the majority of them for nonviolent drug offenses. The United States has four percent of the world’s population, but yet have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. $60 billion a year in this country keeping people in prison and having a captive labor workforce that corporations can profit from. A little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program), created by Congress in 1979, was designed “to encourage states and units of local government to establish employment opportunities for prisoners that approximate private sector work opportunities,” according to PRIDE’s website. The benefits to big corporations were clear—a “readily available workforce” for the private sector and “a cost-effective way to occupy a portion of the ever-growing offender/inmate population” for prison officials. In 1995, ALEC’s Prison Industries Act was born.

The American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC), started passing bills in individual states to privatize prisons. So now, there’s prison companies that could make money by keeping people in prisons. ALEC got states to pass tougher drug laws, tougher laws that would put prisoners away for a long time. In fact, one of the first bills introduced in 1995, by then-Wisconsin State Representative Scott Walker, was an ALEC bill. The Corrections Corporation of America and the Arizona state legislators sponsoring the anti-immigration bill, because having more immigrants detained means more prisons. What ALEC wants to do now is reform the parole system in this country, privatize it. So now prisoners have to put up bond, with private bail bond companies that are owned by big Wall Street firms, where they have to pay outrageous fees in order to get out of prison. The federal body, that now the regulating body for Prison Industries is not the Department Justice, but the National Correctional Industries Association. This is sort of like turning over bank regulation to the American Bankers Association.

What we’re seeing is the incredible rise of prison labor, where you have prisoners making as little as 20 cents an hour, making everything from the electronic components in guided missiles to breaded chicken patties that your children are eating at school. We have over 100,000 prisoners employed, working for private corporations. Florida has forty-one prison industries, California alone has sixty. Another 100 or so are scattered throughout other states. What's more, several states are looking to replace public sector workers with prison labor. Prison labor is replacing unionized public workers. Prison labor working in road crews in Racine, Wisconsin, are not getting paid anything. We’re seeing factories close down that were employing unionized labor, and instead now shifting to prison labor. For instance, in the state of Florida, the largest printing company is Prison Industries. ATL Industries, back in 2005, had 14 million pounds of beef that they knew was infected with rat feces. Many people raised the alarms, and were trying to pressure ATL Industries to recall the beef. However, the USDA wouldn’t let them recall the beef, even through a voluntary recall, because they didn’t want to draw attention to how much meat and how many other products in this country are being made by prison labor.

The use of inmate labor contributes to unemployment and decreased wages among workers — while corporate profits soar.
Taken from here and here

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