July 21, 2010 - Well it is now a fact that inmates are being used to clean up the worst oil spill in history along the Gulf Coast of the US. In the article "BP Hires Prison Labor to Clean Up Spill While Coastal Residents Struggle" found at: http://www.thenation.com/article/37828/bp-hires-prison-labor-clean-spill-while-coastal-residents-struggle?page=full. Not only is BP using inmate labor for the clean up, they are receiving tax benefits and a reimbursement of up to 40% of all wages paid to these incarcerated men and women in Louisiana. While private citizens who have become unemployed due to the recent oil spill - as well as those who remain without jobs long after Katrina devastated the same coastal region - are trying to find employment, BP and other Corporate entities and governmental agencies and departments ignore their plight by implementing a procedure whereby they can utilize inmates instead of hiring the local unemployed to work on clean up activities. Not just substitute inmate labor for private sector labor, but to do it in such a way that federal tax dollars will compensate them for using inmates! Free - or nearly free - labor up front and tax breaks of $2,400.00 per inmate employed by BP after. Have we forgotten the anger and frustration demonstrated by the citizens of the Gulf Coast states when Haliburton and the federal government trucked in workers after Katrina instead of hiring those displaced and unemployed workers and residents who wanted the work following the hurricane?
At some point the American worker must awaken and realize the threats to their jobs are not from Corporations moving operations "offshore" to India, Mexico or other countries. No, the threat to their jobs and income are right here at home and come from Corporations using inmate labor to replace private jobs. They get labor on the cheap, free leasing of facilities and tax breaks from participating states and the federal government for hiring inmates - while they are still in prison! Oh sure, they make statements about reducing "idleness in prison" and "teaching work skills to inmates to make them more employable upon release" as justification for moving their operations behind prison fences and walls and eliminating private sector jobs by that move. But those claims are merely standard rhetoric that has the same impact and results in the same outcome upon the public as false claims made by prison and Legislative officials that unless more tax dollars are used to fund the building of more prisons, hardened rapists, murders and sexual predators will have to be released from prison back into their communities.
It is not just Louisiana that is using inmates in clean up work on the beaches. Florida's DOC issued orders to use their inmates in preventing beach protection preparations and oil cleanup efforts: http://www.examiner.com/x-29847-Toronto-Romantic-Getaway-Examiner~y2010m5d6-Florida-prison-inmates-on-standby-for-beach-cleanup--oil-spill-update. Inmates have been seen along other parts of the Gulf Coast sttates participating in the clean up operations. With the number of unemployed workers in the Gulf Coast region, clean up work could provide them with valuable employment and income. BP set aside $20 Billion for clean up efforts and income losses from the spill and that's a lot of damn money. With that available, how in the world are inmates being used and the unemployed being ignored? They're being ignored in favor of saving money by BP and earning tax credits by using prisoners. That's the bottom line.
The standard statements mentioned above and issued time and again by both private sector Corporations, prison officials and our state and federal Legislative members are designed to instill fear into the public to gain their support for the building of more and more prisons and in the case of inmate labor, the statements are made to cause the public to believe the inmates must be kept busy in order to maintain order inside the prisons; the inmates must be used to manufacture products and provide services so they will learn technology and skills necessary for them to return to their communities and be able to quickly obtain employment and avoid committing more criminal acts, causing a return to prison. Problem is it is simply more rhetoric. Inmates are well controlled behind prison fences. Every moment of every day they are under strict control and disciplined for any infraction, no matter how slight. This was done through discipline designed specifically for that purpose. In the '90's a federal program that had been created in 1979 by the US Congress became a vehicle to increased profits by private corporations. This is the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). This important program authorized the use of inmate labor for training purposes and allowed partnerships with the private sector manufacturers for such training. The program guidelines were established in such a manner to make competition between prison industries and private manufacturers equal. A genuinely good concept but one however, that contained several loop holes that not only create an unequal playing field, but allowed the sale of prisoner made goods to anyone anywhere.
In the instant situation involving BP the article provided above provides us with information that in some cases the inmates are not being paid at all by BP. Instead the inmates are assigned to these work details and if they refuse, they lose gain time (resulting in longer stays in prison on your tax dollar) and can be sent back to prison from their work or work release centers. Who are the beneficiaries of these actions? The inmates? The unemployed workers in the Gulf Coast region? No, the benefit goes to BP - the creator of the situation. And it goes to them with the well wishes of state and federal authorities who are "benefiting" by BP paying them to allow the use of "their" inmates.
Anyone else think it's time to put an end to private sector job losses and governmental complicity in allowing the losses to continue? Anyone else believe it's time to put and end to our governments allowing Corporations to control operations and make a profit following such disasters as Katrina and Event Horizon? I believe it is time to put our people to work instead of inmates. The money is there, the desire of the unemployed to work is there and the authority to make it happen is there. All that needs be done is to get the Obama Administration to put their foot down and do it. Jobs, lives and simply the ability to survive both the disaster and unemployment depend upon such actions.