Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Slave Labor

Poverty is an ugly thing. It strips dignity away from adults and hope away from children. It makes everything a person does in life harder. It exacts a toll from society as it denies opportunity, breeds crime, and shortens human lives. We are a society deeply divided.  Many governments thinks poverty is caused by laziness and benefit dependency, fixable by work and withdrawal of support. Abusing the poor and profiting from them has become the commercial objective for many corporations acting no longer for the good of society but soley from the profit motive.

One profit center is the “private probation” services. Companies sell their “free” services to communities and promise to take the burden of administering the probation of poor and petty offenders from the municipalities. What they don’t say, and most communities don’t care about, is they add an additional burden, actual extra-judicial punishment to poor people whose small fines balloon with fees and fines when they cannot pay. Failure to pay can also bring jail time and poverty becomes crime.
Private probation has seemed like a solution for struggling Southern cities, it has been a disaster for the many poor residents increasingly trapped in a criminal justice system that demands money they do not have, then punishes them for failing to pay.”

Working people who are barely able to make ends meet to begin with find themselves paying interest on fines, monthly fees to the probation company, and additional fines when a payment is missed. Eventually some can no longer pay and they end up in “contempt of court,” even if unemployed, and in jail.

The corporate prison industry makes profits from supplying medical care to prisons, supplying food to prisons, and of course, running prisons. But most insidiously they profit from selling the labor, of prisoners to private companies. They have corporations lining up to “hire” people who had trouble finding employment outside of prison. While most claim that work is not mandatory the truth is that refusal gets you extra scrutiny and, surprise, more punishment for minor infractions. Almost all of the jobs pay well below the minimum wage with some as low as 74 cents a day. This labor goes to subsidize the bottom line of some of the largest companies in America as well as hundreds of smaller enterprises.

Among the corporations that have benefited from this forced labor is:
Bank of America
Bayer
Cargill
Caterpillar
Chevron
Chrysler
Costco
John Deere
Eli Lilly and Company
Exxon Mobil
GlaxoSmithKline
Johnson and Johnson
K-Mart
Koch Industries
McDonald’s
Merck
Microsoft
Motorola
Nintendo
Pfizer
Procter & Gamble
Pepsi
ConAgra Foods
Shell
Starbucks
UPS
Verizon
WalMart
Wendy’s

Through corporate lobbying and political campaign contributions the prison industry has spent hundreds of millions to convince politicians to allow them to run these programs and prisons. They have lobbied to criminalise things that were not criminal, and increase sentences on things that are. There is no doubt that lobbying pays off for PPCs (private prison companies). For instance, in Florida, a strong GEO lobbying effort led to the passage of a budget deal requiring all of the prisons in South Florida to be privatized. Those prisons hold about a fifth of the state’s 101,000 prisoners. Other lobbying efforts include pushing “three-strikes,” “mandatory-minimums,” “truth-in-sentencing” and “immigration-enforcement” laws which result in more prisoners with longer sentences, a boon for the private prison industry.

Prison has become big business. We call our system a “Justice” system but when we add the lure of billions in profit to it we have simply created another way for predators to rob the poor.  Selling their labor, while needlessly compounding their fees, fines, and sentences teaches them that money and power are all that matter. Justice nor compassion are nowhere to be seen in a system that treats humans as a source of profit and teaches them to minimize the value of others accordingly.


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