Police State : slavery : U.S. prisons


Richard Moore

online version contains links.

Is America's inmate population being converted into a slave
labor force? Prison Factories: Slave Labor for the New World

by Charles Overbeck 
Matrix Editor 

The Justice Department reported in August that there are
nearly 1.6 million men and women incarcerated in the United
States -- currently the highest incarceration rate in the
entire world. This startling figure tops off a decade of rapid
expansion of America's prison population, fueled by a "war on
drugs" that is steadily undermining the rights so succinctly
expressed in the Bill of Rights more than 200 years ago.

As 1995 drew to a close, one out of every 167 Americans was in
prison or jail, compared to one out of 320 in 1985, when the
crack cocaine trade began to proliferate. The total number of
inmates has more than doubled in the past decade, and we just
can't seem to build enough prisons to keep them all in.

Add the trend towards private prison facility management and
corporate use of prison labor, and you have an extremely
unsettling social situation. Are we witnessing the creation of
a slave labor force for the corporate New World Order?

Quite possibly, if the Oakhill Correctional Institute in Dane
County, Wisconsin serves as a model. Seventeen inmates crowded
in a makeshift basement factory in that facility crank out
over a million dollars' worth of office chairs per year, in
exchange for wages ranging from twenty cents to $1.50 per

The operation is run by Badger State Industries, the Wisconsin
prison industries program, which employs 600 inmates and which
raked in a $1.2 million profit in 1995. In the past, to
protect manufacturers from unfair competition, Wisconsin
allowed sale of prison-made goods only to state and local
government agencies. But Governor Tommy Thompson's new state
budget allows commercial entities to use prison facilities and
labor for manufacturing purposes. The money will be used to
pay for the costs of incarcerating the prisoners -- including
the ones who work in the factories.

Wisconsin is following the lead of other states, such as
California, Tennessee, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Nevada and
Iowa, which have incorporated prisoners into the labor force,
placing artificial downward pressure on wages. Thousands of
state and federal prisoners are currently generating more than
$1 billion per year in sales for private businesses, often
competing directly with the private sector labor force. The
Correctional Industries Association predicts that by the year
2000, 30 percent of America's inmate population will labor to
create nearly $9 billion in sales for private business

Oregon has even started advertising its prison labor force and
factories, claiming that businesses who utilize incarcerated
workers would otherwise go overseas for cheap labor (thanks,
GATT and NAFTA !). In 1995, an overwhelming majority of Oregon
voters passed a constitutional amendment that will put 100
percent of its state inmates to work.

And they'll be making a lot more than license plates and road
signs. One product of Oregon's inmate factories are uniforms
for McDonald's. Tennessee inmates stitch together jeans for
Kmart and JC Penney, as well as $80 wooden rocking ponies for
Eddie Bauer. Mattresses and furniture are perennial favorites
in prison factories, and Ohio inmates even produced car parts
for Honda, until the United Auto Workers intervened. Prisoners
have been employed doing data entry, assembling computer
circuit boards and even taking credit card ticket orders for

But private industry isn't the only sector eager to exploit
cheap prison labor. On June 14, 1995, the U.S. House of
Representatives narrowly rejected an amendment to the 1996
Defense Authorization bill which would have permitted the
Defense Department to use nonviolent offender inmates provided
by state or local corrections facilities to do construction
and maintenance services at military installations.

Although prison manufacturing facilities do offer short-term
benefits at a time when budgets are strained to the breaking
point, the system is ripe for exploitation and abuse by
government and corporate entities seeking to cut financial
corners. Proponents of prison labor say it is "good" for
inmates, providing income and on-the-job training they would
have never received otherwise.

But due to a lack of restrictions to prevent abuse of the
prison labor force, many inmates view the situation very
differently. At Soledad near Monterey, California, prisoners
earn 45 cents per hour making blue work shirts, which, once
deductions are taken out, adds up to $60 for a month of
40-hour work weeks. "They put you on a machine and expect you
to put out for them," Soledad inmate Dino Navarrete told Arm
the Spirit . "Nobody wants to do that. These jobs are jokes to
most inmates here."

So why do they do it? In California, prisoners who refuse to
work are moved to discliplinary housing and lose canteen
priveleges, as well as "good time" credit that slices hard
time off their sentences. Corporatization of prison labor
abuses inmates, exploits their labor and inevitably reduces
the value of the private sector work force. What is a
troubling trend today may become a social and economic
disaster in the future. ParaScope will be keeping a close eye
on the trend towards prison labor; stay tuned for future
updates on the situation.

For more information, see the sources below, or consult the
Prison Activist Resource Center .


Sniffen, Michael J., "One out of 167 Americans Incarcerated,"
Associated Press, 18 August 1996.

Elbow, Steven, "Doing Time, 9 to 5," Isthmus , 1995. 

"Prison Labor, Prison Blues ," AFL-CIO Labor Letter .

Erlich, Reese, "Prison Labor: Workin' For The Man," Arm the Spirit , 30 November

(c) Copyright 1996 ParaScope, Inc. 



"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

List archives:

Subscribe to low-traffic list: