Free-Forced Labor

Food Banks Inmates

Prison labor in the United States can be traced back to the mid 19th century. During the post-Civil War era, many prisoners were hired out to continue the slavery culture. Prison labor in the US continues today, but on a much grander scale.

In the article Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps, the authors argue that prison labor is good for US, economically speaking. ‘“There’s special urgency in prisons these days. As state budgets get constricted, the public is looking for ways to offset the cost of imprisonment.’” Aside from making license plates and picking up litter, prisons have expanded on these services to include tasks such as: painting vehicles, cleaning courthouses, sweeping campsites, cleaning animal carcasses from the road, painting cells, repairing leaking public water tanks and many other. These duties formerly performed by private contractors and government employees are helping the state save money. For instance, in Florida were the budget was cut by $4.6 billion, analyst predict that inmate farming could save about $2.4 million a year.

I disagree with the article above because it fails to acknowledge a critical aspect of the prison labor system, free-forced labor. According to an article on Quartz, the Bureau of Prisons require all federal inmates work, unless they have a medical excuse. If prisoners refuse to work, they can be punished with solitary confinement, revoking visitation or loss of recreation time. In addition to being forced to work, inmates are also unfairly compensated. End Slavery Now reports that the average salary for workers fall between $.23-$1.15 per hour. Inmates are also subject to a harsh working environment including no unions, safety regulations, pensions, social security, sick leave, overtime pay or other benefits/protection.

Large corporations are also in on the action too. According to Global Research, at least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations. Some of these businesses include: IBM, Microsoft, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Target, Starbucks, Revlon, Hewlett-Packard, Walmart, Victoria Secret and many more.

How is it even remotely fair the manner in which these prisoners are being exploited? Laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act should be preventing this from happening right? I mean the FSLA does state that it establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record  keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments. Wrong! The Courts have repeatedly ruled that inmates are not protected by labor laws. Just imagine how much profit these corporations and the government is making by paying these inmates substandard wages for performing the same task that a non-inmate would receive at least the minimum wage for. Enough is enough! It’s time for a true reform on the prison labor system in America.

“It’s a big scheme that corporate America and the prison system are just taking advantage [and] exploiting prisoners. And they say [we’re] the criminals. They ought to take a true look at themselves, because they’re the true criminals. We want to be treated as American citizens. We’re not slaves.”

Siddique Hasan