Modern day prison labor is equatable to slave labor because it is essentially mandatory in many prisons and it pays virtually nothing. In some prisons, forced labor does pay literally nothing and refusing to work is often punished, so it is technical slavery. Prisons in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia all pay nothing for regular, non-industry jobs performed by inmates. This is legal because the 13th amendment of the Constitution, which was passed after the Emancipation Proclamation, (that freed slaves in only 10 states) has a large caveat. The Amendment reads “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.” This means it is still perfectly legal to enslave Americans if they are convicted of a crime. Black and Hispanic people currently constitute a disproportionately large percentage of the prison population in America because of racist laws and enforcement, making it all the more analogous to slavery in America hundreds of years ago.
According to 2010 data from the US Census Bureau, there were 42,020,743 black people in America that year, making up 13.6% of the total US population.1 The same year in June, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 4,347 out of every 100,000 black non-Hispanic Americans were imprisoned, 1,775 of every 100,000 Hispanic Americans were incarcerated, and only 678 out of every 100,000 white Americans were in prison.2 Blacks were incarcerated at 6.1 times the rate at which whites were incarcerated that year. Racist police want the public to believe this is because blacks commit more crimes but the real cause is racist police who prey on minorities in communities that have endured generations of corporate state racism and inherited poverty. Males also make up a far larger percentage of the prison population than females because of their greater capacity for hard labor. According to the same Bureau of Justice data from 2010, 1352 of every 100,000 males of all races in the US were in prison that year, whereas only 126 of every 100,000 US females of all races were imprisoned
These numbers are not surprising considering prison labor was initially employed to maintain slavery in America after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Prison labor served as a sort of legal loophole that allowed wealthy people to continue legally owning slaves. They did this by accusing newly freed slaves of crimes they did not commit, (the same happens all the time to minorities today) so that they could be “hired-out” for mining, construction of railroads, cotton picking, and other forms of hard labor. 93% of all “hired-out” workers in Alabama at this time were black.3 Police as stated in section 4.4 of this book have just as racist roots. After the Civil War many of those on the slave patrols joined the police force to enforce Jim Crow laws. The runaway slave patrol badge is almost identical to modern police badges as you can see in the picture below. Guards of colonist’s towns who kept natives out of their homeland also joined the first police forces.
Prison labor today still fuels a number of sectors of the economy as slavery once did. Prisoners are exploited in almost all countries for their labor, because it is so profitable to do so, which is why the laws are so unreasonable in most countries. Prisoners in America are responsible for making much of the supplies used by the U.S. military, including electronic components of “Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW missiles, components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter, 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.”4 (UNICOR or Federal Prison Industries recently stopped advertising this on their website but they still advertise parts for missiles and cable assemblies and wire harnesses for fighter jets, helicopters, and missiles.5) US prisoners also make night vision goggles, body armor, military helmets, tents, ammunition belts, camouflage pants, boots, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, and much more. Prisoners make household items as well, such stoves, paints, eyeglasses, dentures, meat and milk at cattle farms, medical supplies, home appliances, office furniture, headphones, microphones, and speakers. Prisoners even raise seeing-eye dogs for blind people.6 Prisoners are also sometimes paid or forced to mine for precious metals, dig, and construct large buildings. UNICOR pays inmates a whopping 23 cents to $1.15 per hour for their labor.7 Meanwhile, UNICOR’s revenue in 2016 was $498,405,000. Some prisons pay inmates as little as 17 cents an hour for their labor8 while individuals outside of prison who do the same jobs are paid well above minimum wage.
Prisons are not subject to minimum wage laws, and there are very few human rights organizations that are allowed to monitor prisons for working conditions and human rights violations. Most inmate-reported abuses go ignored and most federal and state correctional facilities in America turn a profit because of this as they would otherwise be bankrupted by lawsuits. Private prisons are even more profitable because they pay their inmates less. Private prisons are owned by private operators not affiliated with the government. The GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) recently rebranded as “CoreCivic” are two of many examples. These corporations make billions annually because they are not subject to the same legal requirements as federal or state prisons. While prisoners work for pennies, the CEO of the GEO group, George C. Zoley, made $4,888,538 in 2016.9
The private prison industry has exploded in the past ten years due to its profitability. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were only 7771 people in private prisons in 1990 on average, but by 2009 that number increased by 1664% to 139,336 inmates, making up 8% of the total US prison population.10 In 1998 there were still only five private prisons in America. By 2010, there were 100 with 62,000 inmates, and this number continues to grow exponentially. If prisoners refuse to work, they can be denied canteen privileges, locked in solitary confinement, or given longer prison sentences. (The same occurs in federal and state facilities.) Violence and life-threatening diseases are also generally more common in private prisons because private prisons cut costs wherever possible. By employing hundreds of lobbyists and making countless donations to venal politicians, private prisons have succeeded in infiltrating the traditionally government controlled business of caging and enslaving people Since 2002 the CCA (CoreCivic) alone hired 461 lobbyists in 39 states and the GEO group hired 297 lobbyists in 27 states.11
Instead of outsourcing jobs to countries like China, many American companies are now employing American prisoners because they can pay them even less to do the same jobs. The products they produce do not have to be shipped overseas or across long distances either, which saves these companies millions. In some cases these products are made so cheaply that they are allocated for export to countries like China. If a product proudly states that it is “made in America,” there is a good chance it was made by an inmate.
Many young people, immigrants, and refugees are also gravely harmed by private prisons. In 2011 nearly 40% of all detained juveniles in the US were held in private prisons, increased from 25% in 2005,12 and in 2014 62% of beds for immigrant detainees in the US were held at private facilities.13 Aside from campaign donations and lobbyists from private prisons, overcrowding in state and federal facilities is responsible as well for this rise in the private prison industry. The overcrowding itself is due to Draconian legislation on immigrants, such as the US House Judiciary Committee’s “Safe Act,” which calls for months and in certain cases years in prison simply for not having papers that prove legal citizenship. Australia’s immigrant detention centers, the conditions of which are notoriously abhorrent, are all privately owned and they cage many refugees of wars. This problem is a byproduct of borders, another scourge which must all be destroyed. Humans are the only species on Earth that cannot freely travel the Earth and simply helping someone cross the border illegally, even by merely giving directions, can result in long prison sentences in the US.
The percentage of incarcerated juveniles held in private prisons in the US is also high, in part, because judges are often bribed by these corporations to sentence innocent kids to these hellholes. Private prisons do this because most of the contracts they have with the state require that every prison bed they have remain occupied. If some beds are empty, private prions can lose their contracts with the government and thus lose money. Two examples of such judges who received millions in bribes to convict innocent kids (some as young as ten) are Mark Arthur Ciavarella Jr., former President Judge of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and fellow judge Michael Conahan. Fortunately, both were convicted in what is now called the “Kids for cash” scandal. In August 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in prison and in September of that same year Conahan received a sentence of 17.5 years. But one can only speculate how many judges have received bribes for sending innocent kids and adults to prison without getting caught.
37 states in America have made it legal for private corporations to contract prison labor and some of the largest corporations are doing just that and making a windfall of cash in the process. Walmart, Wendy’s, IBM, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, Shearson-Lehman, Lucent Technologies, Allstate, Dell, Compaq, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Intel, Merrill-Lynch, American Express, Nordstrom, Revlon, Macys, Pierre Cardin, Target, John Deere, Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Aramark, GTL, Starbucks, American Airlines, Boeing, Honeywell, Victoria’s Secret, and many more have all invested in prison slave labor. Private prisons also rely on funding from private banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas, SunTrust and U.S. Bancorp according to a report published in November 2016 by the research and policy center In the Public Interest.14
Another way prisons make massive profits is by restricting how inmates use their money. A good amount of their money often goes to the black markets in prison, which are usually controlled by the guards and wardens themselves. Inmates are also forced to spend their money on items most essential for survival and well-being from prison canteens, since they are not always freely provided by prisons. Items from prison canteens can cost more than twice what they cost in any store outside of prison. Governments also profit from costly court fees, and even parking around a court house to go to trial is unreasonably expensive. The meters generally require much more change than normal meters, and there are severe fines for parking in the wrong spot.
Inmates are only allowed to make collect calls in prison and they are about twice expensive as collect calls outside of prison. According to investigative journalist, Alix M. Freedman, “A single prison phone can gross $15,000 per year, five times more than a street phone box.”15 Even a doctor’s visit in prison can cost money, (sometimes up to $100 just for the copay) despite the vile conditions of prisons that can cause sickness and severe injury and the preexisting conditions some prisoners have. As just one example, 1 in 3 US prisoners (about 733,333 people) were infected with Hepatitis C according to the Center for Disease Control in 2013.16 If not treated, hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and death.
Even after prisoners have served their time and they are released on probation, governments can still take a percentage of their income as further punishment. Some state and local laws even prohibit ex-felons from working as septic tank cleaners, nurses, and other professions. Anyone with felony convictions can be banned from government food benefits after release as well. This is purely punitive and has nothing to do with rehabilitation. In fact, it just makes it harder to go straight. Further, former inmates who lived in public housing prior to their arrest may not be able to return home and sleeping outside is a crime in most places, so where are they supposed to go, aside from back to prison? One can only speculate where all of the money stolen from former and current inmates goes because it is not accounted for. Most in charge of these assets could not care less about the quality, maintenance, or safety of prisons, so most of it is likely padding the pockets of those in charge.
Adding to the problem is the fact that politicians, judges, cops, federal prosecutors, prison guards, wardens, and businessmen who own stock (or are otherwise invested) in prisons would rather lobby for longer prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders and keep them in prison for technical infractions on their probation (because they profit from this) than give them treatment to create a better, more functional society. Cops get bigger budgets the more busts they make and some are also on the payroll of criminal organizations that rely on the drug trade. Many believe crime will always be a part of society, and so it is perpetuated.
No private company, person, or government should be able to imprison anyone, and ideally there should be no governments. There is no humane way to keep people in cages against their will and freedom is the most essential condition of existence to foster the best behaviors. Prisoners are used as mere tools for labor and prisons only punish. They don’t rehabilitate and give prisoners the opportunity and education they need to change their lives. If all people were allowed access to the same resources in the first place, there would be almost no will for antisocial behavior. But until we get there, if someone is so dangerous that they have to be removed from society and is unwilling to change after rehabilitation and therapy, the victims of such a person should be able to decide what to do about it but not the state as there can never be any “legitimate authority” or “moral authority” that can deem who deserves to live. We all just have to make our own decisions regarding what is right and respect others who do no unjustified harm. Voluntarily formed communities and individuals can make their own decisions about what to do about people who are threats in the moment as opposed to holding some ridiculous trial. What is right is subjective. No number of witness, juries, prosecutors, defense attorneys, or judges will change that.
In his book the Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos, explains “…the representative of an institution is performing a mechanical role. They have surrendered their own discretion and judgment in order to reproduce the logic of the institution, which is fundamentally the extension of its own power.” (Gelderloos, pg 267.) When people are a part of institution, most associate them with the alleged but false purpose of the institution, regardless of their actions. This is why statists overlook murders committed by police and why the religious look past rape committed by clergy. Instead of blindly trusting institutions, we must be allowed to make our own decisions. We must be given the resources we need to succeed and the best behaviors will result. Trying to manage everyone’s behavior with overwhelming force is merely tyrannical and inimical to justice, freedom, and equity.
5.11 Rape in Prison, the Mentally “Ill” Locked Up, and The Social Consequences of Prisons
Prisons are clearly not serving their alleged functions. Prisoners make connections with more violent people in prisons. Sexual abuse, assault, and murder are common in prisons, and prisoners are often forced to join a gang to survive. These gangs are generally separated by race or other superficial differences, which results in race wars and the extermination of large numbers of minorities.
Rape in prison is also widespread but not often seriously discussed. Some prisoners are raped by other inmates but most commonly prisoners are raped by guards. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics special report of 2004, 42% of the 5,528 allegations of sexual violence made by US prisoners in the 2004 survey were committed by the staff, a further 11% were claims of sexual harassment committed by the staff, and just 37% of the allegations were committed by other inmates.17 The same survey found the majority of rapes of juveniles in juvenile detention centers are committed by the staff as well. 550 rape allegations are made yearly on average in Texas prisons alone.18 Almost none result in prosecution. From 1999 to 2005 the Special Prosecution Unit only investigated 232 guard-on-inmate rape allegations in the entire US and only 43 lead to prosecution.19
Prison guards also regularly get away with murder. For example, in 2017 Florida prosecutors refused to charge prison guards who held a black, schizophrenic prison inmate at Dale Correctional Institution against his will in a boiling hot shower for two hours until his death. Prisoners attested guards regularly used showers as a way to punish inmates, yet Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle claimed the inmate, Darren Rainey, died because of “undiagnosed heart disease”.
Life in any prison can be a worse punishment than the death penalty. There is little joy to be had when nearly every aspect of your life is controlled and you are confined to a cell with people who live the same cramped, tortured existence. Some individuals facing life in prison ask for death instead of prison time. Some other inmates kill themselves just days into their sentence because prisons are such vile places that always change people. This is unacceptable, as is the death penalty. Governments cannot have the right to decide who lives and dies. In Ancient Greece the punishment for murder was usually execution and this only resulted in endless cycles of violence, which we have to learn from, instead of perpetuate.
In the middle Ages the government dealt with crime using what we now call cruel and unusual punishments. But life in prison is a cruel and unusual punishment when rape and assault are accepted practices in prisons, and in many ways interminable emotional, psychological, and physical trauma is much more painful and cruel than intense, but brief physical pain caused by an execution, even a brutal one. Some people in prison can become numb to physical pain and these people can become very violent.
Disturbingly, rape in prison is often joked about in American media, but it is hardly funny for the victims. There are more comedies than documentaries made about prisons in America because most believe prisoners belong in prison. But few people in prison truly deserve to be punished. The mainstream, corporate media often paints a picture of humanity that is divided by “good” and “evil” people. According to their reports, someone branded a “criminal” by the state cannot be human and their motives are not explored. They don’t show shades of gray, and mainstream reporters always exhibit their biases, despite their pledge and responsibility to be as objective as possible. Locking up every kind of “criminal” in prison is easier than making an attempt to understand these people, which is why so many can just cast them aside. Most mainstream, corporate news outlets also sell danger and what the government does to “keep us safe” in order to keep us sheltered and consuming and to keep us from ever knowing and always fearing the inside of prison walls. They make us fear most of all, getting out of line and being forced onto the other side.
If we were conditioned to think more seriously about the socioeconomic impacts of prisons, then they would likely change. But if we see prisoners as lost causes and no one critically thinks about what it means to be a criminal, then we will be losing millions of people to these hellholes. Many of us believe we would have made different choices if put in the circumstances of those branded as criminals. But many only believe this because we are different people. We all have different thresholds for trauma and disappointment. Those who have had more good than bad in their lives can more easily contend with struggles in their lives. But if a person only knows disappointment, rejection, fear, failure, loss, pain, disease, trauma, alienation, homelessness and destitution, then their threshold for more of the same is lower before they do resort to antisocial behavior.
We are all products of our environment and DNA, which means who we become is largely out of our control. But we still do need to be held accountable for our actions, just not by the state. If we make no attempt to understand why individuals commit actions labeled “crimes” given their circumstances and address the socioeconomic inequalities that create crime and state violence, the world will remain ruthlessly oppressive and Orwellian.
Inmates have nothing but time to seethe and contemplate revenge in prison, and many want revenge when they are released because of the squalor of most prisons. (Even some serving life in prison know people on the outside willing to kill whoever was responsible for their conviction.) Some get their revenge, but usually the outcome is messy and destructive for many. The system is simply designed to perpetuate criminality. We are all imprisoned by the law in some way or another. Outside or inside jail, no one is truly free, except for those who live without rulers, prisons, or forms of coercion far from industrial, capitalist civilization.
As long as there are people who feel they have nothing to lose, some people will always behave in antisocial ways. We ought to give opportunities (hand-ups, not hand-outs) to the people who have nothing to lose. Most currently impoverished people inherited poverty. They grew up in low-income neighborhoods with a hostile, terroristic police presence and rampant violence. Many kids in ghettos feel as if they have only two options: either they can toil in under-funded public schools and minimum wage jobs, get beat up and robbed, get to college, and eventually (with some luck) make enough money to live somewhat decently or they can join a gang and potentially make in a day what they would make in a month with a minimum wage job without having to denigrate themselves. Some poor people come from broken homes as well, so they lack strong family ties and gangs often promise to provide the same kind of support and loyalty that a healthy family can provide. This makes gang life seem more attractive, even though it is often filled with danger and pain.
Some criminal individuals will never change because they have no desire to do so. But this doesn’t mean we should give up on everyone who has been incarcerated. Prison abolition is the only solution. As stated there is no humane way to keep people in cages against their will. There are reforms that could be made but they wouldn’t address the fundamental brutality of caging people and its inability to change anything for the better. These reforms include creating aspects of prisons that are enjoyable, cultivating a strong interest in education, learning, and critical thinking, discouraging racism and encouraging religious tolerance and secularism. Colleges that offer special types of degrees could even be set up in prisons. A college degree from a prison may not be as much of an asset to a prisoner as a degree from a college on the outside, but it would show future employers that they made efforts, even before being released, to improve themselves. Prisoners could also be offered ways to channel their anger in productive ways and gangs could be separated in different parts of the prison. Inmates would also benefit from an expansion of programs for sports and recreation, and male and female prisoners could be allowed to visit one another, so that more inmates could still have consensual relationships. Gang membership could also be deterred while benefit for all inmates is stressed. It would also make sense to separate non-affiliated, new inmates from sections of prisons with active gang members, as well as separate different gangs from each other. So long as prisons exist (and again they shouldn’t) they should also employ psychologists who specialize in issues like psychopathy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, isolation, and anti-social behavior, so that they can treat prisoners with mental health issues and transfer ones with debilitating issues out of prisons.
An estimated 16% of the prison population suffers from one or more mental disorder and there are more mentally troubled people in prisons than in hospitals.20 Ronald Reagan increased this percentage during his time as governor when he closed various mental hospitals and diverted mentally troubled people in need of treatment to county jails. This was most likely done to increase the profits of incarceration, and it is a common practice.
Since the early 1990s, various class action lawsuits have been brought against US prisons by prisoners with mental disorders who reported abuses that worsened their conditions. However, even when people with serious mentally disorders are diverted to mental hospitals, they are generally treated no better there and in some cases they are treated worse than average prisoners.
Children with handicaps like Down syndrome and very low IQ have also been institutionalized with children with severe mental disorders for decades. They have been left and forgotten in dreadful conditions because of the financial incentive to keep them there. Punitive psychiatry is clearly just another social and economic control mechanism.
The alleged purpose of psychiatry is to help people with mental issues, but it is fairly difficult to establish patient trust if they are getting “help” from the very same people who punish them. There is not a clear enough distinction between punishment and rehabilitation. In the next few sections, I will discuss various ways to make the distinction and how we can reform mental health industry mainly by taking the industry and profit motive out of mental health treatment.
1 Rastogi, Sonya, et. al: The Black Population: 2010, Census Briefs, U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, September 2011. <<https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-06.pdf>>
2 Lauren E. Glaze: Correctional Populations in the United States, 2010, page 8, appendix table 3. Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2011. <<https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus10.pdf>>
3 Pelaez, Vicky: The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery? Global Research. March 10 2008.
6 See Global Research article above.
10 United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 1995, page iv, 1997. <<https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/Csfcf95.pdf>> Heather C. West, et al., United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics: Prisoners in 2009, page 33, Table 19 (2010). <<https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p09.pdf>>
15 Alix M. Freedman, “Phone Firms Wrestle for Prisoners’ Business in Hot Phone Market”, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 15, 1995, p. A1.
16 HEPATITIS C & INCARCERATION, Publication No. 21-130, CDC, October 2013. <<https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/pdfs/hepcincarcerationfactsheet.pdf>>
17 Allen J. Beck, Ph.D: Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2004, page 1, US Department of Justice, July 2005, NCJ 210333. <<https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svrca04.pdf>>
18 James Austin, et. al: Sexual Violence in the Texas Prison System, page iii, JFA Institute, March 2006. <<https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/215774.pdf>>
19 Crowe, Robert: Lawsuit Focuses on Rape in Prison. Houston Chronicle, October 16, 2004. Newspaper.
20 E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals: A Survey of the States. Treatment Advocacy Center, May 2010.