American companies that once looked to places like Mexico and China for cheap labor are bringing those jobs back to the U.S. Why? Because prison labor is much, much cheaper. Paid between 93¢ and $4.73 per day, and collecting no benefits, prisoners are a cheap labor source for about 100 companies (source).
What does this have to do with you?
If you have insurance, invest, use utilities, have a bank, drive a car, send a child to school, go to a dentist, call service centers, fly on planes, take prescription drugs, or use paper, you might be benefiting from prison labor.
If you’ve bought products by or from Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpiller, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, or Microsoft, you are part of this system.
When prisoners are in state and federal prisons, the U.S. taxpayer is subsidizing low wages and corporate profits, since they are paying for prisoners’ room, board, and health care. When prisoners are in private prisons, prison labor is a way to make more money off of the human beings caught in the corrections industry. In other words, prison labor is an efficient way for corporations to continue to increase their profits without sharing those gains with their employees.
For an extensive list of the companies contracting prison labor, click here. You might also find interesting the video clips, embedded in this news story, of promotional videos by prison corporations that attempt to sell the idea of prison labor to companies:Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
ravencomeslaughing — April 4, 2013
While I don't agree with the racialization of prisons or our justice system in general, one could play devil's advocate here and point out a few things.
1- What about the concern of several companies that outsource to prisons as customer service call centers, and these criminals then theoretically could have your identity information?
2- While the wage thing is obviously messed up, is it not more productive than letting them just sit there all day and not contribute or even learn skills they could use to contribute to society when they get out?
3- At what point, if not reached already, is prison no longer really actually punishment? We know people do commit crimes specifically so they can go somewhere to get medical care, meals, housing, education, etc. Some released criminals have committed new crimes to get sent back because they couldn't get health care out of the prison. This needs to be fixed in society in general, but isn't prison supposed to be punishment for committing a crime?
I think there are too many variables to adequately and quickly solve the problem, and not enough people willing or able to change the system as it stands.
myblackfriendsays — April 4, 2013
There's a reason that the 13th amendment says, "except as a punishment for a crime"...
Yrro Simyarin — April 4, 2013
So who is doing the selling in states that do sell prison labor, but don't have private prisons? The immediate link and the article itself fails to explain (as far as I saw, anyway) the connection between prison privatization and involuntary prisoner labor, and the graph itself seems to indicate that it is not limited to states with private prisons.
It also fails to make a differentiation between voluntary and involuntary work programs. I know in many prisons there is an option to do outside work for an increased level of something interesting to do and pay. Given that room, board, and basic levels of medical attention, education and entertainment are provided to these inmates on the public dime, I don't have too much of a problem with them being paid less than minimum wage. Involuntary work, on the other hand, at least beyond what is necessary for the inmates to provide for their own cleaning and such, is entirely odious.
Prison Labor as Modern Day Slavery » Sociological Images | up2xxi — April 4, 2013
[...] See on thesocietypages.org [...]
lambdaphage — April 4, 2013
Christ, what a mess. I never thought I'd write a comment that could even be mistaken as defending the current prison system, but that "infographic" reads like an exercise from a critical thinking textbook.
The first comparison is not even statistically significant (!) For the second comparison, it's not clear why housing a for-profit prison (case 2) is more informative about a state's attitude toward criminal justice than actually doing business with one (case 1), especially when you consider that prisons are not the most desirable projects to bring to one's district. Which would suggest that prison locations might correlate better with a state's land usage and general reliance on the federal government, both of which would favor prisons in southern states. Southern states are also pretty gung-ho about incarceration in general, so a null model in which all states have the same probability per prison of constructing a private prison would also predict that more Southern states would have at least one private prison.
For-profit prisons are a terrible idea, but that should be an easy case to make on its own merits. It's not necessary to insinuate that for-profit prisons are the second coming of Jefferson Davis when (1) the data don't actually support that and, awkwardly, (2) Vermont, Connecticut, Wisconsin and California are also on board.
Brutus — April 5, 2013
I'm confused; is the complaint about the semi-voluntary use of prisoners for labor, or only about the fact that they aren't paid market rate for that labor?
ps — April 6, 2013
It should be illegal to profit from prisoners. What kind of system could ethically put prisoners to work without setting the stage for an environment where corporations benefit from having more prisoners? Because this inevitably leads to a situation where people are imprisoned to fill the ranks of slave labor rather than for actually committing crimes that deserve imprisonment. Instead of benefiting corporations, prisoner wages could go to pay their own way, with any excess divided among savings accounts for life outside prison and a pool for restitution to victims, education for at-risk youth, etc.
Ali — April 8, 2013
I'm confused by this article, perhaps because it doesn't seem to be making as straightforward an assertion as I would like. For the first few paragraphs, I thought that it was pointing out the benefits of prison labor. It says "American companies that once looked to places like Mexico and China for
cheap labor are bringing those jobs back to the U.S. Why? Because
prison labor is much, much cheaper." That sounds like a good thing... American-made products that are cheaper sounds great! So when I read the list of companies, I thought it was meant to be companies to support.
But then there was the point about U.S. taxpayers subsidizing corporate profits, which sounds like a bad thing. But doesn't it also mean my products by those corporations will potentially be cheaper? I'll be paying taxes for prisons (which I would pay anyway, right?), but I will also be saving money by buying products from those companies.
Maybe I'm missing something about the conditions of the labor... or the quality of the work by prison laborers. But there isn't anything about that in the article, so I feel like I should read it as "prisoners are receiving money when they would not normally have access to employment, and they are producing cheaper American-made goods."
If this is meant to be a criticism, perhaps include some facts about why this is an injustice. But if it's meant to be laudatory, perhaps a shift in tone (or facts about why it is efficient) would be helpful to clarify. Or perhaps the point is for us to make our own decision about prison labor, in which case more Starbucks for me!
tgif | Many Things — April 11, 2013
[...] Lisa Wade Prison labour [...]
Are You Benefiting From Prison Labor? | The Buzz 1230 AM — May 1, 2013
[...] Click here to read more or check out the video above. [...]
The Apple of My Eye - The Agonist — May 22, 2013
[...] Apple has taken advantage of perfectly legal tax loopholes written into our tax code by the corporate overlords through their Orc minions, Republicans, Inc. and Corporatist sympathizer Democrats. Likewise, Apple has exploited the fact that Chinese workers in many instances are willing to work as cheaply as American prison inmates. [...]
GreenBear — October 6, 2013
I think the original exception in the 13th amendment was so that we could have prisoners upkeep their own prison. This is just far enough separation from actually owning people for the public not to make the connection.
Land of the free…? | Literalth — April 28, 2014
[…] Americans are more likely to be incarcerated. They are then exploited for their labor by large corporations. In the process, their health suffers and large expenditures are incurred housing such a large […]
Texas Savvy — February 1, 2016
It's a corrupt system and a return to Jim Crow; you can't separate out the elements and get the truth. This is just another example of a system that is set up to exploit a category of people who are with little power and allow those with the clout to take advantage of them. From the establishment of private for-profit prisons, to the policies that set up blockades for equal opportunity, to the application of criminal process that targets "others," to a political system owned by the small group of ultra-powerful the system is rigged. Since the beginning of our history, this nation has ground down and vilified the people who actually do the work and create the riches which allow the top dogs to subjugate them. And most people just will not face that fact. Gunnar Myrdal studied it and reported it in the last century and it remains, "The American Dilemma."