Thursday, October 12, 2017

Okay. Brace Yourself.

Down in Louisiana they've got a "plain spoken" sheriff by the name of Steve Prator.

One of sheriff Steve's pet peeves is the early release policy in the state's jails and prisons. That's sort of what you expect from a cop. But, wait, there's more.

Sheriff Steve's real complaint is that too many of the really good prisoners are getting released and those are the prisoners he needs for, well there's no nice way to put this, - slave labour.

Hell, don't let the good ones out, I need them to change the oil in my car.  What, do you expect me to wash the damned thing myself? Hey, I'm the sheriff.


Reader, UU4077, points out the role ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council (where bought and paid for politicians go to get their marching orders from their campaign financiers), has played in promoting prison slave labour in the United States. This article from The Nation, "The Hidden History of Alec and Prison Labor," is alarming, disgusting.

Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.

Somewhat more familiar is ALEC’s instrumental role in the explosion of the US prison population in the past few decades. ALEC helped pioneer some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today, like mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, “three strikes” laws, and “truth in sentencing” laws. In 1995 alone, ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act was signed into law in twenty-five states. (Then State Rep. Scott Walker was an ALEC member when he sponsored Wisconsin’s truth-in-sentencing laws and, according to PR Watch, used its statistics to make the case for the law.) More recently, ALEC has proposed innovative “solutions” to the overcrowding it helped create, such as privatizing the parole process through “the proven success of the private bail bond industry,” as it recommended in 2007. (The American Bail Coalition is an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force.) ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to create private for-profit prisons, a boon to two of its major corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections), the largest private prison firms in the country. An In These Times investigation last summer revealed that ALEC arranged secret meetings between Arizona’s state legislators and CCA to draft what became SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration law, to keep CCA prisons flush with immigrant detainees. ALEC has proven expertly capable of devising endless ways to help private corporations benefit from the country’s massive prison population.

It's not the Chinese stealing these jobs. Slave Labour Brings "Everyday Low Taxes."

Prison labor has already started to undercut the business of corporations that don’t use it. In Florida, PRIDE has become one of the largest printing corporations in the state, its cheap labor having a significant impact upon smaller local printers. This scenario is playing out in states across the country. In addition to Florida’s forty-one prison industries, California alone has sixty. Another 100 or so are scattered throughout other states. What’s more, several states are looking to replace public sector workers with prison labor. In Wisconsin Governor Walker’s recent assault on collective bargaining opened the door to the use of prisoners in public sector jobs in Racine, where inmates are now doing landscaping, painting, and other maintenance work. According to the Capitol Times, “inmates are not paid for their work, but receive time off their sentences.” The same is occurring in Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia, all states with GOP Assembly majorities and Republican governors. Much of ALEC’s proposed labor legislation, implemented state by state is allowing replacement of public workers with prisoners.

Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News, says prison labor is part of a “confluence of similar interests” among politicians and corporations, long referred to as the “prison industrial complex.” As decades of model legislation reveals, ALEC has been at the center of this confluence. “This has been ongoing for decades, with prison privatization contributing to the escalation of incarceration rates in the US,” Friedmann says. Just as mass incarceration has burdened American taxpayers in major prison states, so is the use of inmate labor contributing to lost jobs, unemployment and decreased wages among workers—while corporate profits soar.


Lulymay said...

Sounds like this guy and Sheriff Joe in Arizona had the same training manual!

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, indeed. A year or two ago I read a magazine article in, I think, Harper's magazine about incarceration in town jails in Louisiana. Apparently the state issues stipends to local sheriffs for each prisoner held. The amount was a fraction of what the state had to pay to incarcerate prisoners in state prisons. The sheriffs, however, could decide how that stipend was to be spent, or not, and were known to have a tendency to deprive prisoners of food, heat, etc. to create a surplus that they then pocketed themselves and considered just part of their compensation. The state, by offloading prisoners on local jails, saved money and the sheriffs pocketed money. Everyone, prisoners excepted, was happy with the deal.

Jay Farquharson said...

"Penal labor in the United States, a form of slavery or involuntary servitude, is explicitly allowed by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. "

Studies have shown it's well over a $9 billion dollar industry in the US, utilized by many Corporations. It has become a mean's for Corporations to avoid "offshoring" to low wage or piecework Nations and avoiding OSHA rules and regulations for "safe" workplaces.

Like Debt Slavery,

Or Highway Robbery,

Welcome back to the New Guilded Age.

The Mound of Sound said...

Terrific links, Jay. Thanks. About four years ago I did a post about how Jim Crow laws were used to keep slavery going from the end of the Civil War right up to the start of WWII.

UU4077 said...

Trump blames Mexico for jobs lost to low labour costs. Maybe he should look at the homegrown Prison Industries Act - sponsored by ALEC, of course.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks UU4077. I had to Google "prison industries act" and I was flooded with links. Do you remember when we in the west used to castigate China for using forced inmate labour? It was something so immoral that only a totalitarian state could dare resort to it. Why do I feel that's still true?

UU4077 said...

Time to get busy - seeking out companies that take advantage of this. As you likely remember, I work in the "investment industry" as a financial advisor. I know you do not care for us. However, there are some that have a conscience and are trustworthy.

I support SRI and ESG (although the latter needs to be defined by those that claim to adhere to it). For example. does your fund (mutual fund or ETF) invest in companies that produce cluster munitions? I have found many in Canada that are, in my opinion, off-side on this issue. Interestingly, the Harper government signed and ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Our current Liberal government, when pressed on the issue as to whether or not investing in companies was "aiding and abetting" an illegal activity, has declared that "it is up to the courts to decide". Really! Grow a pair for friggin' sake!

Lulymay said...

Commenters here reminded me that major hotel chains were known to be using prisoners to man phones used by you and me to book reservations.
Don't know if this practice is still used, but you do have to provide a fair amount of information to whoever answers the phone when making a reservation. I've also read that private prison operators (something Harper wanted to embark on) have great latitude in how and where they use prisoners. And add to their profits, maybe?

The Mound of Sound said...

UU4077, I don't know that I have any particular animus for financial advisors. They're like realtors or lawyers, some are fine, others are scoundrels. That's life. The good ones tend to do better in the long run.

I do believe in ethical investment and consumerism. There are companies I steer clear of although, in this era, some of the worst are performing the best - i.e. Lockheed and Raytheon.

While I'm not remotely diligent in its use I do have an app on my smartphone, 'buycott,' that allows me to designate companies whose products I wish to avoid for environmental or labour or other considerations. You can use it to scan bar codes of specific products on store shelves to see if there are some you ought to reject. It's a gestural thing at best but sometimes those too are rewarding.

UU4077 said...