Prisons in America are ill equipped to smoothly operate with the escalating amount of incarcerated offenders. Despite the United States comprising 4.47% of the world’s population; 25% of all persons imprisoned globally are held within the United States detention centers (Liptak 1).
The reemergence of penal servitude – the leasing out of prisoners to private enterprises for work in workshops and factories, has gained momentum in America as cheap labor becomes more desirable for Fortune 500 corporations to turn to for a larger profit. The increasing total amount of incarcerated persons in the United States is directly correlated to the privatization of prisons for profit which unfairly exploits a labor force lacking legal rights.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2010 — about .7% of adults in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or on parole. In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 — about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population. (Guerino 1)
With the world’s largest population behind bars one must contemplate the benefits of acquiring such a large workforce, and why the government is making the progression towards privation over state ownership of prisons. Prisons in the United States are operating at max capacity and many detention centers are becoming increasingly unable to operate efficiently, and as a result are now searching for alternatives to find a solution.
The Corrections Corporation of America is a company based out of Texas that operates and maintains private prisons across the United States and also works with companies to lease prison labor to produce goods. The CCA offers to relieve existing state prisons by taking them under their management by promising higher efficiency and safety for inmates. For the state to take CCA up on their offer to lead a prison, the state must sign a 20-year contract and promise a 90% inmate occupancy rate over that period.
Michael Kindt, a political activist against the privation of prisons comments that what the CCA is asking is for states to commit to maintaining prisons filled to capacity, guaranteeing a permanent workforce .(2) This makes sense as the CCA is a for-profit business whose sole success depends on keeping prisons full, something CCA freely admits (Guerino 1).
After acquiring a prison suitable to labor, the CCA sells the inmate labor lower than the national minimum wage to Fortune 500 corporations such as Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, etc. Of the US’s two thousand detention centers, nearly one million prisoners are employed crafting office furniture, taking online orders, fabricating car auto-part panels, receiving hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing. Depending on the complexity of the job worked, an inmate’s pay is between 93 cents and $4.73 per day (DiIulio 2).
Companies participating in forced inmate employment programs lease factories available in prisons or nearby and transport prisoners to an offsite location to work long and strenuous hours.
Adam Liptak, a pro-privation prison analyst remarks that the inmates currently incarcerated presents a unique workforce not allowed vacation time, guaranteed to be present and on time, and able to work full-time and year-round. A permanent work-force able to perform all duties when asked of mandatorily is unheard of, and a huge positive gain for any company (1).
American tax dollars are used to supplement private prison budgets for the expansion of detention space to accommodate more inmates and also to guarantee a growing workforce that will be available to corporations to cheaply utilize. It costs on average $94 dollars per day to incarcerate an adult male at Montana State Prison and $73 per day on a contracted prison. For an inmate at the Women’s Montana Prison it costs $116.45 per day. As of 2010 the cost of booking and housing US criminals is a staggering $231,079,000 a year.
Americans’ tax dollars are used to pay for a prisoner’s food, housing, and medical treatments. When a private prison partners with an independent company such as Chevron, the company will provide all heavy machinery, training, and overseers for day to day operations.
By including an armed prison guard in the factory, inmates are expected to work diligently in silence. This system exploits not only the incarcerated convicts, but also the honest tax payers who are indirectly contributing to this inhumane situation. There are benefits for jailbirds who participate in theses work programs. For many small-time offenders, these work programs offer an outlet to spend their days learning new skills and acquiring a small sum of cash. A paycheck earned in prison may be used to purchase amenities such as deodorant, radios, and/or vending snacks.
Depending on what area of labor an inmate is chosen for, their skills acquired may be substituted for real world experience and be valuable towards a similar occupation, often giving them an opportunity return to normalcy and acquire a job. Unfortunately, this meager paycheck may only slightly improve life inside prison with expendable creature comforts. Once an inmate is released, all assets that were earned are confiscated to pay state and federal taxes, offset incarcerations costs, and compensate victims (if any) (Guerino 1) In the end this system benefits only the private prisons as they reclaim everything paid to the inmate, while also profiting off the labor performed by the newly free inmate.
The growing number of prisons bursting with convicts increases each year with the further implementation of the CCA’s plan by turning American prisons into a profitable slave-like driven factory. There is nothing beneficial towards inmates who participate in these programs as their earnings upon release will be taken to pay taxes, incarcerations costs, and compensate victims if necessary. The penal servitude system that is growing in the US is detrimental towards the United States tax-paying citizens and unfairly exploits the captive prison population with rigorous and inhumane labor. .
Works cited Liptak, Adam. "U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs That of Other Nations." NYTimes.com. New York Times, 23 Apr. 2008. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. DiIulio, John J. Governing Prisons: A Comparative Study of Correctional Management. New York: Free, 1990. Print. Kindt, Michael. "Cagle Post Â» To Be Read While Blasting 'Prison Song' By System Of A Down." Cagle Post. Cagle, 02 Feb. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. Guerino, Paul. "Prisoners in 2010." Bureua of Justice Statistics. Office of Justice Programs, 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.