Ending Private Prisons

Here’s a short article explaining why the US needs to end the use of  private prisons.




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

Incarceration Nation: Ethical Issues Surrounding Private Prisons

The United States has the largest prison population in the world since the incarceration rate has skyrocketed since the mid 70’s, as seen in the chart below.


Prisoners, of whom a majority are African-American, are often employed as cheap or even free labor by companies with the intention of cutting costs and maximising profit. The most common form of employment involves simple manufacturing that operates under government-run prison production schemes that are called “correctional industries” or Unicor. As mentioned in last week’s post, private prisons fall short in terms of cost-efficiency. In addition to that, they are also severely lacking from a moral standpoint. This post will take a closer look at the ethical implications of private prisons and inmate labor.

The first problem lies with who the prisoners are. Most inmates commit low-level, non-violent crimes and have been unfairly sentenced to jail time. While on the surface it might seem as though prosecutors are to blame for this, private prisons are the main culprit as they earn more profit when more of their prisons are filled up. Lauren-Brooke Eisen (@lbeisen), senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, has even said that one reason the Trump administration is moving back to private prisons is based on “what they falsely see as a rise in crime”.

Overcrowding, overheating, understaffing, lack of medical attention, abuse and neglect… These are just some of the conditions inmates are subjected to in for-profit prisons. Some prison facilities even lose their contract with federal immigration authorities because of the unimaginable conditions they subject their inmates to. One example is the Willacy facility, in which inmates slept a couple of feet apart in an area haphazardly built out of Kevlar tents.

We also cannot ignore the fact that when corporations hire inmates, some, if not most, of them are forced to work against their will. This means that your groceries from Whole Foods and lingerie from Victoria’s Secret were involuntarily made or packaged by someone just so that a company could make more profit from it. Doesn’t that sound like slavery to you?

The ethical issues that stem from inmate labor extend far beyond prison walls. BP P.L.C., also known as British Petroleum, is a British multinational oil and gas company that currently has 74,500 employees in 72 countries. In 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon wellhead exploded, inmates were made to clean up crude oil which had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico along Louisiana beaches. This sparked outrage as instead of hiring the coastal residents who were desperate for work, BP turned to hiring inmates with the hopes of earning tax breaks. Inmates were forced to work for hours on end, performing the most toxic job in America with no proper job training.


The ethical issues surrounding private prisons are more than sufficient to necessitate private prison reform.

They’re in on it Too?

Did you know that large corporations take advantage of low wages paid to private prisoners. According to an article found on Democracy Matters, some companies that exploit private prison labor include:

  • Boeing
  • Starbucks
  • Victoria’s Secret (as seen on Orange is the New Black!)
  • McDonalds
  • Wendys
  • Starbucks
  • AT&T
  • Sprint
  • Verizon
  • BP