From the December 2004 Idaho Observer:

The corporation prefers prison slave labor

"I know my rights!" many non-represented Americans have oft stated over the years when they believe government agents have overstepped their authority. "I know my client's rights!" say the attorneys of private corporations and the corporate state as the judge instructs the jury to enter a verdict of "guilty." One of the most alarming trends in America is the growth of the prison labor industry. On the surface it would seem that Americans are a nation of bad apples that keep filling our prisons up—if you were to accept government explanations for the steady increase of criminal convictions that result in prison sentences. But a closer look at the profit motive that drives every corporation shows that prisons are actively marketing their labor pools—the able bodies they manage to place behind bars.

compiled by The Idaho Observer

The first rule of investigation is "follow the money." This rule especially applies when investigating the activities of corporations because motivations other than money, such as emotions, may compel certain behaviors in people, corporations have only one motive: Profit.

Several researchers concur that the money trail with corporate government begins the moment an order, such as a traffic ticket, a bond or a sentence is entered into the system. At that moment, a dollar value is attached to that person based upon the speculative amount of money the individual represents in the system. A bond is written. That bond is then sold on the open market through brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch—which reportedly has the contract to sell city, county, state and federal prisoner bonds.

According to Lynne Schmaltz in her article "Profiteering off the prisoners," a monetary value is placed on the alleged crime and then "factored the way banks factor their money."

Schmaltz used the figure of $4 million for a certain felony. The city/county/state/federal government from where the alleged crime originated then multiplies it by 10. The bond then goes out on the open market, with the prisoner's name and SSN attached to it, for $40 million. An investor may offer to pay a percentage of the $40 million with a promissory note to pay the full amount. When the promissory note reaches a bank, the bank multiplies the amount again by 200 or 300 percent and sells the note as a bank security.

Since the mid-90s, the nation has been on a prison and jail-building spree. Billions of dollars are flowing from county, state and federal coffers into jail and prison construction projects to meet the projected demand for beds so prison slave laborers can get needed rest for the next day of work.

California, for example, has built 21 new prisons in the last 20 years; 10 more are now under construction and five more are to be completed in the next decade.

"For those of you who wonder why the U.S. has more people in prison per capita than any other nation on earth, you'll begin to understand how we can have a weakening economy and still fund wars overseas. It's all based on prisoners," Schmaltz explained.

13th Amendment slave labor

It is no secret that major corporations hire impoverished third-world populations to make goods for importation into the U.S. It has also been exposed how China and other nations allow corporations to use prison laborers for production of goods intended for the global marketplace. A few years ago this was a point of frustration for American politicians who were "feeling the pain" of their constituent workers who were finding it impossible to maintain their standard of living and compete with third-world slave labor.

Times have changed. "Outsourcing" has become an accepted fact of contemporary economics and millions of both blue and white collar jobs are simply being performed by third-world laborers.

Prison labor offers domestic relief to corporations which prefer to keep the work here at home. Where regular, tax-paying American workers demand high wages, health benefits and unemployment insurance and have demonstrated a historic tendency to organize, unionize and go on strike, prisoners will either work for whatever wage they decide to pay them or they can sit in their cell.

UCLA sociology student Michael Schwartz recently observed that the use of prison labor in the U.S. is legal per the 13th Amendment. He appears to be correct. The 13th Amendment of the Constitution states, "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."

Big business

The U.S. has become the most imprisoned nation in world history with 2.2 million people serving at least one year in a state or federal institution. China, which boasts of having one of the world's most notoriously intolerant government, holds 500,000 fewer prisoners than the U.S. with four times the population.

The U.S. has also seen a three-fold increase in prison population since 1980.

This is big business.

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the fastest growing companies in America. It contracts with governments to run existing prisons like businesses and is also using public and private capital to build private prisons which are contracted to receive prisoners after conviction and sentencing. It even has a transport division to move prisoners from place to place.

CCA stock is traded on the open market and the Paine-Webber Group investment firm is reportedly the majority stockholder. Those individuals who use Paine-Webber stock brokerage services may be vested in the nation's for-profit slave-labor prison system.

It is also reported that companies such as WalMart, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, Chevrolet, Texaco, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, and UPS have stock in CCA.

Paradigm shift

What if the equation were as simple as: Man commits crime, is charged with said crime, indicted for said crime, is convicted by a jury of his peers for having committed said crime, is sentenced and incarcerated for said crime?

The taxpayer pays for keeping the man in prison until he "has paid his debt to society." Since it would benefit society for the man to become a productive member of it upon his release (as opposed to being more likely to reoffend), society would prefer incarceration to have rehabilitative avenues available to inmates who could achieve early release on good behavior.

However, the equation is more complicated now: Man is charged with a crime, a dollar value is placed on his crime, a bond is issued in his name, marketability of bond depends upon his conviction and sentencing, he is convicted and sentenced, is worth more as a prison laborer than at home providing for family, is refused parole, is kept in prison as a slave laborer producing products for the marketplace at slave wages and forced to work under substandard conditions, is reinforced in his hatred for authority, is prepared for release by being conditioned to reoffend.

The former scenario, the proper way to deal with crime and punishment in a free society, is fair to taxpayers and creates a desire among all but the most incorrigible criminals to pay their debts and get on with their life.

The latter scenario, the one in place now, promotes convictions (guilt or innocence is not a consideration), promotes the ordering of long prison sentences, inhibits rehabilitative measures and ensures the likelihood an inmate will be kept as long as possible and that released inmates will return to the slave labor pool as convicted reoffenders.

Competing on the open market

According to the Wall Street Journal, as of 1999, the clothing and apparel industry alone had lost 8,000 jobs to the federal prison labor system.

At The IO we have received letters from inmates all over the nation who are forced (through various pressure schemes) to work to help pay their fines and other forms of retribution. Their pay scale ranges from 20 cents an hour to $1.45 an hour.

Prison laborers are not just making license plates any more. Below is a partial list of items being produced in prison—at or below the cost of third world slave labor:

aircraft parts
circuit boards

These products are produced under contract for major companies such as Chevron, IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Victoria's Secret and Boeing.

Schwartz stated that, "Federal prisons operate under the trade name Unicor and use their prisoners to make everything from lawn furniture to congressional desks. Their web site proudly displays 'where the government shops first.'"

As prison populations grow, so too will the numbers of prison slave laborers available for work. The volume and spectrum of products produced for the open market by prisoners at slave wages will certainly increase as well.

This prison labor problem did not just pop up all of a sudden. The following quote from an October, 2004 report from the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) entitled "Prison Labor: U.S. style fascism" is from 1994.

According to the PLP, Oregon State Rep. Kevin Mannix , soliciting Nike, a Beaverton, Oregon-based corporation, to take a closer look at "hiring" a certain group of Oregonians to make Nike products. Citing his belief that Nike subcontractors pay their Indonesian workers the equivalent to $1.20 per day, Mannix said, "We propose that [Nike] take a look at their labor costs. We could offer prison inmate labor right here in Oregon."

The hiring of prison labor out to commercial enterprisers has become so commonplace that state corrections departments are buying ads in trade publications to promote the attributes of their prison labor pools. Schwartz quoted the following: "Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried about the cost of employee benefits? Getting hit by overseas competition? Having trouble motivating your work force? Thinking about expansion space? Then the Washington State Department of Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you."

PLP also reported that prisoners are working nine-hour days at Soledad Sate Prison in Monterey, California, making blue work shirts at 45 cents an hour. The shirts are "...exported for sale in Asia. Even with transportation costs, they can undersell Asian sweatshops," PLP observed.

Prison labor is also being contracted for telemarketing, construction, firefighting, brush clearing and product packaging.

The self-perpetuating prison population problem

As early as the 70s, stiff prison sentences were being handed down to persons convicted of simple drug possession and President Ronald Reagan signed the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for federal drug possession convictions in the mid-80s.

The nation's non-violent prisoner population began to explode.

Mandatory minimum sentences for the full spectrum of violent and non-violent crimes began passing in many states during the 90s. Mandatory minimums, which promote prosecutors' "stacking" charges and compelling "plea-bargains," effectively removing judicial discretion from the sentencing phase of a criminal proceeding. Mandatory minimums have dramatically boosted the numbers of non-violent offender convictions that result in prison sentences.

Department of Justice data from 1998 showed that 52.7 percent of state inmates; 73.7 percent of jail inmates and 87.6 percent of federal inmates were non-violent offenders.

The corporation does not care what type of crime resulted in conviction so long as the inmate is capable of putting in a day's work. As of 1998, the non-violent prison population in America crossed the 1,000,000 mark—a population greater than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska.

The future

With some wry humor, it has been estimated that, if present trends continue, the entire nation will be incarcerated by about 2056. At that time, the government will merely have to declare America a prison nation, prevent Americans from entering Canada or Mexico, stop issuing passports and plane tickets and increase Coast Guard shoreline patrols to guarantee corporations access to some 300,000,000 slave laborers.

The comments above may seem like sarcasm, but the truth of 2056 is already more apparent than most realize.

All Americans who work in America, pay their bills, buy products and try to provide a decent home life and educational opportunities for their families are already half enslaved: The average American pays out 53 percent of his earnings in taxes for the privilege of supporting the (dys)functions of government.

The maze of direct and indirect tax structures are levied to support the legions of government agents and agencies who regulate our ability to function in the free market, inhibit our ability to travel and communicate and monitor our every financial transaction.

Most of us have no choice but to inadvertently or unknowingly break several laws between the moment we get up in the morning and the moment we drop off to sleep at night. That being said, in the eyes of the state and the corporations who intend to exploit our energies, we are a nation of criminals who haven't yet been caught and sentenced for crimes associated with breathing freely without first asking permission.

And what is the philosophical foundation for the land of the free being transformed into a prison nation?

There isn't one. There is no philosophy, there is no foundation; it's only profit—profit generated by little men and women hiding behind paper fictions chartered by governments and constructed in such a way that they can reap the worldly benefits of profit without incurring the temporal liabilities associated with enslaving and exploiting an entire nation.

The corporation and America's future generations

Last January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in six American children are being diagnosed as learning disabled or otherwise behaviorally or neurologically impaired. Cathy Trost of the Washington Post recently quoted a qualified source as stating that the rate has increased to one in three.

"It's so common for a child to be diagnosed with a learning disability, developmental delay or behavioral disorder these days — as many as one in three kids are, say some experts — that the culture has undergone a major shift, from hiding the condition to obsessing about it. I don't know a family personally who has three kids that one of them hasn't been diagnosed with a learning disability or ADD," said Clinical Psychologist William Stixrud.

We know the cause—prenatal and postnatal exposure to mercury and other toxins. But there is no money in prevention. There are, however, billions of dollars to be made in therapy and a lifetime of assisted care for milions of permanently damaged children who will never be able to live alone or maintain gainful employment. So, corporations, with regulatory help from the government, intend to continue damaging our children to pay dividends to their stockholders.

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