IRONY. The California Dept. of Corrections just posted this picture of a female prisoner making an American flag in a factory where she gets paid 8 cents an hour. Nothing says, “Freedom,” like the exploitation of prison slave-labor.
===Happy Independence Day from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation! (Photo: A female inmate works on an American flag while working in the Prison Industries Authority Fabrics program at the Central California Women’s Facility on Thursday, April 5, 2012 in Chowchilla, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF)
Prison Industrial Complex
“No other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” – Report by California Prison Focus
“Prison Industrial Complex” is a term that refers to private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies. What is interesting about this term and the concept of “prison labor” is how it’s rise parallels the rapid expansion of the US inmate population.
The Prison Industrial Complex is big growth industry. While other sectors of our economy continue to struggle in this recession, the private prison industry is booming!
Is there a connection between this booming business and the record rise in incarceration in this country? Let’s take a deeper look…
Did you know that for every 100,000 Americans, 743 of them reside behind bars? That is nearly 1 out 100 Americans! Today, the United States has the highest prison population in the world with more than 2 million people either incarcerated in prison or in jail awaiting trail. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, surpassing China, North Korea and Russia. A study conducted by the Bureau of Justice in 2005 showed that a record 33-year continuous rise in the number of inmates in the United States despite falling crime rates.
To put this concept into perspective, consider the following:
- Consider that for every $1 we spend on higher education in this country, we spend $.60 on correctional facilities.
- Collectively, the States and Federal government spend about $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people who work in the industry.
- The largest private prison conglomerate in the United States is Corrections Corporations of America(CCA) which controls more than 47% of all private prison and jail beds nationwide, produces a 13% to 15% return annually.
- Nearly ¼ of the world’s total number of prisoners being incarcerated behind bars are Americans.
- 1 out of every 32 Americans is on probation, parole or in prison.
- A total 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision in 2009 (about 3.1% of US Adults).
- Of these, 4,933,667 adults were on probation or parole.
- According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are over 2,266,800 adults incarcerated in US Federal and States prisons today.
- County jails accounts for another .7% of U.S. adults.
- There are more Americans under “correctional supervision” than were in Stalin’s Gulags.
- Every day, at least 50,000 men—a full house at Yankee Stadium are in solitary confinement.
- 86,927 juveniles were in detention as of 2007.
- Texas alone has sentenced more than 400 teenagers to life imprisonment.
- A black male is 7x more likely to be imprisoned than a white male.
- Prison rape is so endemic—more than 70,000 prisoners are raped each year.
The major myth associated with our Prison Industrial Complex is that the rise in incarceration rates reflects a commensurate rise in crime. The fact is that crime rates have fallen. One of the driving forces behind the sudden rise in prison populations is a result of the “three strikes laws.” It is estimated over 500,000 Americans are in prison for drug-related, non-violent crimes. Another driver is the continued privatization of our prison system where these private companies are actually incented to keep their jails full. Case in point, CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for “good behavior,” but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost “good behavior time” at a rate eight times higher than those in state-run prisons.
Another big driving force behind our massive prison system is cheap labor.
37% states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations. The list of these corporations include: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.
In private-run prisons, the working inmates 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 “employer” is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.”
Exploitation of cheap labor by Fortune 500 companies has competition from the Military Industrial Complex. Did you know that prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter? And that prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm anti-aircraft guns to 300-mm battleship guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for BAE Systems’ Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder? Prisoners are also “hired” to recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.
Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.
The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit. For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.
I believe what former Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix said when he recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs, we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”
In other words…he is basically offering slave labor! While our so-called elected officials talk about the massive slave labor camps in North Korea, I think one only has to look into the mirror and let the facts speak for themselves. Our prison industrial complex is getting out hand, much like our military industrial complex. We need to stand up now and do something about it, before it gets too powerful, too influential, and too out of control.
Until next time, keep your powder dry and your faith strong!
Jailing Americans for Profit: The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex
“Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.”—Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America”
In an age when freedom is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.
As author Adam Gopnik reports for the New Yorker:
[A] growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible.
Consider this: despite the fact that violent crime in America has been on the decline, the nation’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. Approximately 13 million people are introduced to American jails in any given year. Incredibly, more than six million people are under “correctional supervision” in America, meaning that one in fifty Americans are working their way through the prison system, either as inmates, or while on parole or probation. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of those being held in federal prisons are convicted of drug offenses—namely, marijuana. Presently, one out of every 100 Americans is serving time behind bars.
Little wonder, then, that public prisons are overcrowded. Yet while providing security, housing, food, medical care, etc., for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry, it’s a $70 billion gold mine. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, and here’s the kicker, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have agree to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least 20 years.
The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.
- In this week’s issue, Adam Gopnik writes about mass incarceration and criminal justice in America: http://nyr.kr/A75iOm
Photograph by Steve Liss.