Corporations, Prisons and Politics
Think You're Not Affected? Read Below and Think Again...
By Bob Sloan(C) 2010
After more than seven years of research into state prison industry operations, inmate wages, sales and laws pertaining to these facilities, I have discovered certain troubling facts that have little to do with prison labor. Corporations have found a way around controlling federal laws to increase sales, reduce wages and thus increase profits. For my blog, this is the same old grist I’ve expressed before but I urge you to read on and become worried about our future as a country and a society.
By removing the façade of prison industries and labor, layer by layer I discovered how programs such as PIECP and concurrent state programs and laws came into being. I learned how they work, why they work and those responsible for all of it. PIECP has become an often used corporate tool to reduce private sector jobs and force a reduction in hourly wage to those few jobs that remain outside prison fences.
Thousands of private sector jobs have virtually disappeared over the past two decades. At first the loss to the private sector was negligible, and then more and more became unemployed as manufacturing jobs simply were no longer available. Service jobs began to follow suit with call and service center positions also disappearing. Media reports informed us that the lost jobs were going overseas or moving to Mexico. Elected officials claimed they were doing all they could to stem this continuous flow of jobs “offshore”. What the corporations and politicians did not tell us was that an increasing percentage of manufacturing and other jobs were going to prison, literally and they were not working to stem the flow of jobs to other countries – just the opposite.
In order to fully understand how this is happening and why, I began following every link available to me. I perused links on inmate wages, PIECP, private sector job losses, laws and ordinances pertaining to prison industry, private prison operations and corporate activity involving prison labor.
What I discovered has scared the hell out of me and I’m assuming it will have the same effect upon others in our society – once you become aware of how critical the problems really are and the process and procedures that work against each of us as we seek employment. In order to be competitive in the jobs market, one must be informed. You have to know what you’re up against in this competitive endeavor. To this point, we are all only half informed.
To become fully informed we must travel back three decades and look to where the path our society is on became altered. I’ll try and put my findings in order and proper perspective and explain my findings in layman terms that are easier to comprehend than the words spoken by some of our politicians on these issues.
A few basic concepts must be explained before we begin this sad journey.
· Corporations generally have one priority – profits.
· Politicians have one primary priority – election and re-election.
· Corporations – despite the recent Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions and funding elections – are not individuals.
· The line between Corporations and Politicians is distinct and until the late 70’s separated the two.
· Our governments, federal, state and local, are made up of individuals we elect to office and others those public representatives appoint to work on behalf of society.
· A distinction must be maintained between politicians, individuals, corporations and society as a whole. When those lines begin to blur the needs of individuals decrease as the wants and desires of corporations and politicians increase exponentially. A gap is formed and widens as society’s rights and needs are abridged in favor of corporations and those politicians they support – and are supported in return.
· The public can be supportive of an agenda that benefits corporations and has a negative impact on society, if they are falsely informed that such an agenda is necessary to protect them from some evil or disaster.
In the late 70’s our government was just getting over the Vietnam War. Millions and millions had been spent on that failed effort. During the war years our military industrial complex worked around the clock making the tools of war while hundreds of thousands of our young men fought overseas. Corporations had fewer young men to draw upon for their labor needs.
One way to keep labor needs filled was the creation of the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). This program allowed private corporations to partner with prison industries and use inmate labor in place of private sector labor. The program was designed to “assist” manufacturers by allowing them to supplement their existing “free” labor force with inmates to keep up production. While PIECP required corporations to maintain their private sector employees and not reduce their wages or benefits, corporate owners ignored this provision. Private sector manufacturing plants were closed, the workers laid off or terminated as operations moved entirely behind prison fences, exclusively using inmates for labor. At the same time ways were found around PIECP’s mandatory prevailing wage requirement and by this, inmate workers received minimum wage scale for their efforts. In addition the prisoners received no medical or other benefits and employers were not required to pay unemployment insurance (this benefit was originally required but later legislation dropped it) on them. Prisoners were required to show up for work on time, had no paid vacations or other time off.
With a taste of increased profits from using cheaper inmate labor, corporate owners expanded operations, sometimes having more than one industrial facility in operation at a time. Many prison industries opened their own operations, making and selling many products without partnering with private corporations. They found through a loop hole that markets previously unavailable to them had opened under PIECP (in Florida alone, PRIDE operates more than a dozen individual PIECP operations throughout the state). Additionally corporations sought a way to move other manufacturing and industrial facilities to Mexico, India and China to capitalize from lower wages paid to workers there and to avoid paying higher US taxes.
Corporations wanted more factories and more profits – enter the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Alec began in 1973 and was little more than what is now referred to as a Political Action Committee (PAC) but by 1980 they had grown by leaps and bounds. Their membership was a mix of 2000 (1/3 of all state lawmakers nationwide) mostly conservative state Legislators and 200 or more US Corporations. ALEC’s primary mission was to bring together corporations and lawmakers in an effort of developing proposed state legislation that benefited the corporations. This was accomplished through a duality: Board of Directors (see: http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Board_of_Directors&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=11888) composed of lawmakers from each state and a Private Enterprise Board (see: http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Private_Enterprise_Board&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=13256) composed of ALEC’s corporate representatives. These two boards meet jointly and develop what is termed “Model Legislation” (see: http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Model_Legislation1), proposed laws the corporation wants put in place. The two Boards receive advice and other support from a third “Board” – a Board of Scholars (see: http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Board_of_Scholars&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=11486 for a listing of these individuals and the firms or entities they represent). These scholars are a mix of individuals with a dedication to ALEC’s belief and agendas and work to facilitate the creation and ultimate passage of legislative bills favorable to the corporate membership. Scholars are well positioned within legal firms, media outlets and other important entities ancillary to ALEC’s agenda.
ALEC has nine (9) “Task Forces” set up to address important issues such as public safety, environmental protection, taxes and telecommunication.
Corporations pay annual dues to ALEC to belong. These “dues” range from $7,000.00 to $50,000.00 depending upon the amount of influence the corporation needs or desires. In addition corporate members buy positions upon the task forces offered by ALEC. The cost of seats upon these important “committees” range from $2,500.00 to $10,000.00 per seat per year and a corporation can purchase as many seats on each task force as are vacant or available (see: http://www.alec.org/am/pdf/Corporate_Brochure.pdf).
No Model legislation leaves ALEC without consideration by and approval of the Private Enterprise Board. So any legislation by ALEC’s 2000 has no chance of leaving a task force and becoming law unless authorized by the corporate side (see: http://alecwatch.org/chaptertwo.html).
I could report more on ALEC but I believe you have the gist of what and who they represent. I will however point out some of the legislation they have been responsible for and take credit for:
· Legislation limiting tort claim awards for medical and other professional malpractice violations.
· Three Strike laws.
· Mandatory Minimum sentences for criminal Gun charges.
· Mandatory Minimum sentencing for drug charges.
· Habitual Offender laws imposing up to life terms upon conviction.
· Legislation relaxing environmental protection laws on behalf of manufacturing and industrial corporations.
· Legislation authorizing privatizing of state and federal prisons and prison industries.
· Legislation allowing huge corporate tax cuts/credits (such as the Bush Tax cuts of 2000).
· Legislation awarding tax credits to US Corporations who moved industrial and manufacturing operations offshore.
· NAFTA legislation.
· Legislation allowing drug manufacturers to advertise their products directly to the public through the media and a denial of Medicare to negotiate drug prices for Medicare members.
· Legislation limiting the amount of damages and fines to be paid by Oil companies in the event of spills or environmental contamination.
Some of the foregoing legislation was necessary to increase incarceration to provide a steady flow of warm bodies for prison labor needs. The resulting increase in prison populations bears a direct link to these state laws. Tax dollars for the building of more and larger prisons were funneled into private corporate coffers through privatizing of these prison facilities – you and I paid for these expensive construction projects.
In order to get the tax dollars necessary for all of the foregoing, it was necessary to secure the acquiescence of society. This was accomplished through disinformation campaigns funded by corporations. Society was informed time and again of increasing crime rates and the need for more prisons. We were told hardened criminal murderers, rapists and child molesters were going to be released and walk among us without more prisons, and we approved tax dollars.
Move forward to the present and examine the current situation involving Mexican Nationals and other alien immigrants. Disinformation campaigns tell us that we are at risk from an influx of illegal immigration into the US. Drug cartels are killing our citizens at an alarming rate, even beheading some of us. We are told they are the primary reason for our lost jobs and want to come to the US to have babies that will be US citizens.
Once again we acquiesced to the “facts” presented to us and became frantic to stop illegal immigration. In response we demanded the US Government take affirmative steps to stop the border crossings. We funded the building of a nearly useless fence, and are paying for the increased presence of National Guard units along the border and the introduction of stealth drones to surveil the border between Mexico and the US. We were told none of this was working. Illegal immigration was on the rise and something had to be done to stop it.
The result was public support of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona – and subsequent proposed legislation in as many as 12 other US states. When SB 1070 was introduced we were not fully informed about the situation or real reason for the hysteria that resulted from deliberate disinformation. Illegal immigration was down by more than 40% - while we were being told it was increasing – and private corporations who hold US contracts to house illegal immigrants and other federal detainees found their facilities with more and more vacant beds. The two corporations involved and holding these contracts…? - Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut). Both are members of ALEC and provide millions in funding and dues to ALEC annually. They were losing money every day for each empty bed and needed legislation as a stop-loss measure. ALEC’s Public Safety Task Force went to work on proposing legislation to assist CCA and Geo Group in filling their beds.
To promote more detainees, it was first necessary for the public to be falsely informed of a need for more arrests to protect them from these aliens. To accomplish this, the media was employed to carry stories of violence and crimes committed by illegal Latino immigrants. This media blitz was led by Fox News outlets nationwide as ALEC worked on the formation of the proposed legislation. CCA lobbyists on the staff of Arizona Governor Brewer worked behind the scenes to secure the assistance of Brewer to further complain of how her state was being overrun by Latinos while US authorities drug their feet in assisting her in closing Arizona’s borders.
When the Public Safety Task Force finished their proposed legislation, it was given to ALEC member, Senator Russell Pearce (R) of Arizona. He took the proposed bill back to Arizona and re-wrote it in his own words. When he finished, he took the bill back to ALEC for review, amending and tweaking. When that was finished, he was sent back to Arizona to introduce the proposed legislation. His task was supported by an additional 36 Arizona legislators who were also members of ALEC. Pearce and his friends were successful in getting the bill passed and Governor Brewer quickly signed it into law
Only after passage did we discover who Pearce was and that ALEC was involved in modeling the legislation to the benefit of CCA. Similarly, we were without knowledge of the presence on Governor Brewer’s staff of CCA lobbyists until after the deed was done. Of course CCA immediately issued statements that they had not lobbied Governor Brewer or any other legislator on the SB 1070 measure. However, immediately after that statement it was discovered CCA had been a contributor to Senator Pearce’s campaign efforts for some time and that in 2009 Pearce spearheaded an effort to privatize Arizona’s entire prison system!
You may think that there can't be that much money in housing illegal aliens, huh? You'd be wrong. ICE and Immigration and Naturalization authorities advise that ideally an illegal immigrant is detained in a CCA facility for only 20 days before a hearing and possible deportation back to Mexico or country of residency. The cost for these 20 days of detention is approximately $2,900.00 per detainee. However, for some reason there is a "back-log" involved with getting these cases before the judge or deportation. The average detention is 423 days instead of 20. The cost for 423 days is $60,000.00+ per detainee - paid to CCA under their federal contract. Currently CCA receives $11 million per month for housing of prisoners/detainees and if/when SB1070 is found constitutional, they're in a position to see a substantial spike in their monthly revenue. Now imagine how well they're positioned if the other states pass similar legislation and start stopping everyone they suspect of being illegal, and putting them in detention facilities? Think the price of their stock is going to go through the roof?
In summation of this single incident the explanation goes something like this: immigration detention had fallen off. The corporations with federal contracts to house detainees were losing money. They needed a way to increase income and as members of ALEC they had their assistance and the assistance of fellow ALEC members, Senator Pearce and 36 other Arizona lawmakers. CCA has two paid lobbyists well placed as “sleepers” on the staff of Governor Brewer so with the assistance of a media blitz led by Fox News, it was such an easy accomplishment, they decided to take the same legislation nationwide. Why only limit arrests and detention to Arizona when there were so many other states with ALEC lawmakers willing to promote the same laws?
BP also supports ALEC. In the Event Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP informed us that they would pay for the damages and environmental contamination from the oil. They initiated an expensive media campaign to inform that they were responsible and would pay damages to those who lost income due to the spill. However, when it came to the actual clean-up who did they hire for the work? Not those unemployed due to the spill, no they hired state prison inmates to do the work. Most of these inmates were not paid – the work was part of their sentence and they were assigned by DOC officials to that job. If they refused they were sent back to prison and lost good time.
After all the hysteria surrounding the “worst oil spill in history” and government claims that it would be decades before the impact upon the ocean and environment would be reversed, BP agreed to deposit $20 billion dollars into a fund for damages and recovery efforts. Despite reports that it would be years before fishing and collection of shell fish would be safe for human consumption, within a few weeks of the capping of the well, our government officials and the media now informs us they can’t find any more oil! It has vanished. To me this demonstrates quite clearly that when corporations comply with monetary demands made by the government, the government is willing to assist in limiting the cost to that corporation, again by promoting a disinformation campaign to manipulate the public.
What does all this tell us? It tells me that our governments – state and federal – are no longer subject to the will of the people they represent. Rather they are supportive of corporations and rich individuals who pay to play. If laws are required on behalf of these ultra rich corporations and corporate owners, lawmakers see that it is done. These legislative members answer to the dollars put into their campaign coffers and no longer represent our interests. Legislators, government authorities and corporate owners have discovered that by manipulating the public through our media outlets, we can be convinced to accept any plausible explanation for their action, for laws imposed upon us and for huge expenditures of our tax dollars to the benefit of corporations.
Until the latest fiasco involving Arizona and BP I had hopes that the despicable acts complained of were committed by the previous administration and the present one would adopt procedures to erase the acts committed under Presidents Bush and Clinton. However it now appears that President Obama and his Cabinet are once again only the puppets of corporate America, subject to the will of their contributors and their paid power brokers and lawmakers. Whatever agenda they support issues they present or laws they want passed, Congress will endeavor to accomplish – for a price, of course.
The end result of all the manipulations, relaxed regulations and imposed laws upon us is the imprisonment of more than 2 million Americans and Lord knows how many immigrants. From privatization and incarceration, many states are deeply in debt and if not on the verge of bankruptcy (such as California) close to it. Many states have begun to find ways of reducing their prison populations through alternative sentencing options, early release and other programs such as substance abuse alternatives.
All of this financial strain and burden upon the states – and we as their citizens – is the responsibility of those corporations linked to and funding organizations such as ALEC. To them there is no such thing as compassion of loyalty to their employees, only to the bottom line on their financial statements. If it’s profitable to move operations to another country and subject entire communities depending upon them to unemployment, loss of homes through foreclosure and an inability of parents to provide medical care to their children, those corporations could care less. They are looking forward to the next item on their agenda and what laws have to be created or amended to allow them to check that off their list and move on to the next.
Without the huge financial contributions from corporations, lawmakers would actually have to concentrate upon service to their constituency in order to gather supporters and contributions for election or re-election. That is one reason why the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited expenditures by corporation in election cycles is so detrimental to us as a society. Corporate America has already reduced our national manufacturing and industrial capabilities to a dangerous level – by moving operations behind prison walls or across borders. Their needs have resulted in mass incarceration and increased detention of those who come to the US for a better life and sanctuary from an environment that is depressed and lives in poverty. The decreasing but steady influx of Mexican Nationals into the US while our industrial and manufacturing companies are moving there to take advantage of the lower wages, clearly demonstrates though willing to work, most Latinos decide on risky illegal immigration rather than stay and submit to slave labor in the country of their birth. Unfortunately, our loved ones in US prisons don’t have that choice. They continue to work daily for the corporations partnered with their prison industries. Any laws beneficial to them are stopped in their tracks at the state level. Every attempt to exercise their rights of access to our judicial system are also stopped by recent laws limiting pro se law suits. These men and women are trapped within a system created and managed by private corporations and under rigorous laws enacted on behalf of those corporations by lawmakers representing those corporate interests.
Unfortunately in today’s world it really is “Pay to Play” and in these financial times the only ones who can “Pay” are the top 2% or our society and their corporations. Lawmakers have outgrown our ability to pay them to represent us, so it has come down to an “Us against Them” environment. As long as we continue to elect and place the same set of individuals in positions of making our laws and looking after our interests we’ll continue along the same path. It’s time for all of us to make a stand and make our presence known.
Whether a candidate is Republican, Democrat, Independent or Libertarian – if they are part of the problem of supporting corporate interests over those of the public, they have no place in our Legislature or Judiciary. The trend that started more than three decades ago must be stopped in its tracks and the effects of that trend reversed. If not, our future is bleak. More and more of us will wind up without jobs, income or support and find ourselves in prison alongside those we were supposed to be protected from. The jobs stolen from us are already there and as inmates with experience we’ll be welcomed back to our old machines and equipment, consigned to work there as slaves for the corporations that are driving our economy and profiting the most by our continued refusal to stop them.
We’ve all been warned and are now informed. What we do with that information is up to us…as is our future and the future of this great Country.