Workin' for the Man -
Captive Labor is fueled by the War on Drugs
by Nora Callahan
While corporate America downsizes and our economy pales, prison industries flourish. What was once a disturbing trend is now big business in America. Prison inmates have become ecomomic resources in an ever surging prison-industrial complex. There is, and can no longer be ignored, a national trend toward the rapid expansion of prison work programs as a way of offsetting the tremendous costs associated with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Captive labor is attracting investors and industries by the hordes and federal legislation has been introduced that will mandate prisoners work for big business - and don't think that prisoner produced products are for prison consumers.
It is a fact that the War on Drugs has filled our prisons to overflowing and new prison construction can not keep up with the fervor of "lock 'em up" politics. A conclusion easily made is that the War on Drugs has spawned our nation's return to slave labor, even in the midst of our government's critisism of China and other countries for the same practice.
We have 30 states that contract prison labor to private corporations. Prison industries sales have grown from $393 million in 1989 to 1.81 billion in 1995. Current statistics are unavailable, but we can bet they are higher yet. Labor Unions are wary and have put up a few small battles, but the momentum has gone virtually unchecked.
Federal prison laborers are exempt from constitutional protections and state regulations regarding safety, benefits, and minimum wage. Meanwhile, the taxpayer shells out more and more dollars for prison construction while private corporations, as well as state and federal bureaucrats profit from the misery of incarceration.
UNICOR operates in federal prisons- a corporation that offers common stock to all members of the U.S. Department of Justice. Preferred or Class A stock is held by large banks and Wall Street Investment houses - not unlike the U.S. Postal Service stock arrangements. Dividends are skimmed off without the scrutiny of Congress or GAO auditors. Products made by UNICOR workers can be found just about anywhere our military ventures. Pallet shelving, institutional beds, steel beams and hardware produced by US federal prisoners can be found in Kuwait. Somolia and Mexico have both received UNICOR products.
Prison labor has little to do with rehabilitation, not when sentences that span a man or woman's entire career are rountinely meted out. Don't think that this isn't a consideration when increased length of sentences enhance the profitability of these industries. A lower turnover rate is always a factor in the bottom line. It isn't just the federal government who have jumped on this bandwagon-states are jumping on as well and here are just a few:
Prison Industry Authority (PIA), a prison industrial complex approved by California Legislators in 1983 intended on becoming self sustaining as well as turning over profit to the state in short order. Those goals have never been met, but PIA contends that they could, if the state will allow them to privatize. Right now they may only sell to government agencies or private parties that reside outside US borders. You name it - PIA sells it and state agencies that are forced to purchase their goods have long since opposed it.
Texas Correctional Industries consists of 35 factories located at 24 prisons with 6 new plants currently under construction. Business is booming and why not? Texas allows outside sales to tax-supported agencies, cities, counties and schools at a lower cost than the private business can - is it any wonder? TCI also predicts that they can generate additonal revenues by restricting tax-supporting agencies from purchasing their products elsewhere.
New Hampshire Correctional Industries has a slogan: As other business industries come and go, NHCI continues to grow! They further boast by proclaiming, "Our industries can play a key role in making your business successful! Whatever your business application needs are, we can meet them faster and without sacrificing quality. One look at the list of features in our various departments will tell you there's no more convenient way to handle your business applications. Products and services available are: Furniture/Design, Wood Products, Printed Material, Farm Products, Data Processing and Specialty Signs."
Correctional Industries Association was formed to promote the establishment, development, and improvement of Correctional Industries' programs and a closer understanding and relationship between correctional industries and the general public, private industry, organized labor and other interested parties.
This association's members are as follows:
If you don't think that the Correctional Industries Association is not a political force to be reckoned withthink again. Read their Resolution on the Fair Labor Standards Act:
WHEREAS, correctional industries and institutional work represent critical activities yielding social, economic and management benefits for the corrections agency, the inmate and the public at large;
WHEREAS, correctional industries and institutional work programs reduce idleness in institutions that are, on average, more than 130 percent of capacity;
WHEREAS, correctional industries are programs designed to train and employ as many inmates as possible, and, as such, they carry additional financial burden not found in the private sector; yet, at the same time, they must be financially self-supporting;
WHEREAS, inmates are not employees who should enjoy full benefits offered by an employer to an employee;
WHEREAS, correctional industries and institutional work programs cannot absorb the financial burden of paying minimum wage and continue to operate as they exist;
WHEREAS, the consequences of designating inmates as employees will result in the imposition of an unnecessary tax burden;
WHEREAS, it is important that it be made clear that Congress did not intend inmates to be considered employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act; and
WHEREAS, it is essential to terminate the numerous and costly lawsuits filed by inmates in courts around the nation;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Correctional Industries Association hereby expresses its support for federal legislation which seeks to clarify that inmates are not employees and are not entitled to minimum wage by specifically excluding prison and jail inmates.
Adopted 11/02/96 St. Michaels, Maryland
Who is behind an association such as this? The following is a list of key agencies, associations and firms who have experience in either offering or administering grants and/or direct technical assistance services to correctional industries. (Note how many of these institutions are maintained by tax dollars.)
AMERICAN JAIL ASSOCIATION /JAIL INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION, Road Hagerstown, MD
CORRECTIONAL INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION /BUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCE PIE CLEARINGHOUSE, Ellicott City, MD
NATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFERENCE SERVICE, Rockville, MD
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE, Northwest Washington, DC
BUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCE (BJA), Washington, DC
INSTITUTE FOR LAW AND JUSTICE, Alexandria, VA
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CORRECTIONS INFORMATION CENTER, Longmont, CO OFFICE OF CORRECTIONAL JOB TRAINING AND PLACEMENT, Northwest Washington, DC
BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS, Northwest Washington, DC
JAIL INDUSTRIES CENTER (BJA), Washington Grove, MD
NIC NATIONAL ACADEMY OF CORRECTIONS, Longmont, CO
PIE COORDINATOR CORRECTIONAL INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION, Philadelphia, PA
The November Coalition urges labor and business interests to help us put a stop to the prison industrial complex. It clearly is a detriment to private enterprise and an exploitation of prisoners and human rights.