A recent article in the NY Times reports that "Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps" is now on the agenda in Red states.
The article says in part:
"Prison labor — making license plates, picking up litter — is nothing new, and nearly all states have such programs. But these days, officials are expanding the practice to combat cuts in federal financing and dwindling tax revenue, using prisoners to paint vehicles, clean courthouses, sweep campsites and perform many other services done before the recession by private contractors or government employees.The reason why there are no figures to tell us how many prisoners are now being used, is because they don't want the public to realize just how many jobs are being farmed out to inmates, to replace public workers.
"In New Jersey, inmates on roadkill patrol clean deer carcasses from highways. Georgia inmates tend municipal graveyards. In Ohio, they paint their own cells. In California, prison officials hope to expand existing programs, including one in which wet-suit-clad inmates repair leaky public water tanks. There are no figures on how many prisoners have been enrolled in new or expanded programs nationwide, but experts in criminal justice have taken note of the increase."
In New Jersey you can even look up the schedules of inmates and pick a day to use the inmates and schedule for their use! I don't know about you folks, but doesn't it seem too damn coincidental for this kind of effort to be happening at the same time the Conservatives are also pushing for right to work laws and elimination of collective bargaining for public sector workers? A little too coincidental for my liking.
Yesterday the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, Robert Gangi wrote a letter to the editor opposing this use of prison labor to replace public sector workers. Gangi opened his letter with:
“Enlisting Prison Labor to Close Budget Gaps doesn't touch on the serious relevant concern that using prison workers to defray government costs represents a form of modern-day indentured servitude."and he's right. As I wrote last week, banks are being allowed to use prisoners to ready foreclosed homes for sale and to cut the grass and do the landscaping to keep the property looking lived in. This is being done in Georgia and Texas now - and may be going on elsewhere. How the banks managed to get in on the use of inmate labor to fix up the properties they've stolen from hard working civilians who fell on hard times, but after what they did to our economy, the last thing they should have access to is free or cheap slave labor to offset more of their costs.
There are more prison labor issues on the radar today. In Oklahoma state lawmakers are getting set to take $5.3 million dollars from the prison industry fund set aside for running the industries, paying inmates and ordering materials. The need for this money? To pay prison guards so they won't have to be furloughed! Guard's payroll...so while the rest of us are struggling to even find a job, the staff at Oklahoma's state prison facilities won't have to cut back more than one day a month via unpaid furloughs. As expected, officials warn that they have to have this money to keep the staff in place to control the inmates, as programs for the prisoners have already been cut way back and they have less to do, so need more supervision. This is always at the crux of their arguments for more tax dollars for incarceration - but it always goes to pay for staffers. Simply a continued unnecessary waste of tax dollars and reliance of incarceration to solve all the woes of our society.
How about remodeling Courthouses and other government buildings? Or Prisoners as "early responders" in community emergencies? Constructing low income housing in Kansas? How about Utility service positions in Florida? Or how about prisoners doing maintenance work at U.S. military bases as "Civilian Inmate Laborers"? And speaking of military...
...let's take a look at some corroborating information that has just come to light concerning the Federal Prison Industries - UNICOR - and the use of prisoners to manufacture missile and aircraft components. I've written about this previously but here are the facts from another independent source. Of course it calls into question the"safety" of using inmates to manufacture such parts...but it does not address the loss of such high-paying technical jobs to the civilian sector.
Here are some troubling yet informative words taken from the article:
"Right now, federal prison inmates in correctional institutions across America are making parts for Patriot missiles.
"They are paid $0.23 an hour to start, and can work their way up to a maximum of $1.15 to manufacture electronics that go into the propulsion, guidance, and targeting systems of Lockheed Martin’s (LMT) PAC-3 guided missile, originally made famous in the first Persian Gulf conflict."
I've been saying this for years now, but can't seem to get the right individuals in the right position to take notice. Here's more from the article:
"For the record, federal prisoners are making more than missile components. Inmates also make cable assemblies for the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing (BA) F-15, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, Bell/Textron’s (TXT) Cobra helicopter, as well as electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder.Of Course, the ultra conservative Heritage Foundation was interviewed for this article and their policy "expert", Mackenzie Eaglen responded; "Building one piece of one part of one missile is not going to give away the nation’s crown jewels"..."My assumption is, this program is confined to basic manufacturing. There’s a big difference between a highly-skilled worker and someone who inserts a widget." Okay...is it just me, or is this being deliberately downplayed (the skill necessary for manufacturing aircraft and missile components)? The DoD keeps saying they have such a large budget that increases year by year partly because they need to have a highly-trained, highly-skilled workforce “warm” and ready to gear up on a moment's notice - like we did in WW II, Korea and Viet Nam.
"Despite repeated requests, Unicor would not disclose how many inmates are currently assigned to such defense-related jobs, but public records show Unicor electronics factories located at no fewer than 14 federal correctional institutions."
If having a highly trained and highly skilled workforce is necessary for the safety of this country, why isn't that workforce comprised of working Americans who have not broken laws and are in dire need of employment? I'll tell you why - just as this article explains; The prison workers are paid $0.23 an hour to start with a maximum wage possible of $1.15 an hour! How many of us are going to volunteer to do such a job for pennies an hour? Not very damn many, because we have families to support and want a fair wage for our labor. This is just more glorified bullshit spewing out of the mouths of our Conservative lawmakers on behalf of large corporations such as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and others like Koch Industries, AT&T, etc.
This is the hidden issue that demonstrators across the U.S. at each and every statehouse and town hall meeting need to be shouting about. It is becoming more critical by the day as more and more public and private jobs are being taken from them and put in the hands of prisoners - oh, year for valuable and necessary "training!" It's valuable and necessary because they do the work for next to nothing, have no voice, cannot complain, strike or collectively bargain. They are the true slave labor of the new millennium...and those supporting this are coming for YOUR JOB NEXT.
Even Canadians are now being placed in jeopardy regarding the use of prison labor. At least in that country they're civil enough to allow the inmates to form a labor union to address worker issues in their prison industries.
How is all this "training thingy" (as Palin would ask) working out for us? Not very damn well. Released offenders are having more and more difficulties trying to land jobs once released. They can't find work, housing or community support programs and assistance, and wind up back in prison and back to work for the corporations. Incarceration and prison industry for profit is tearing our nation apart - even as the Conservatives work nationwide to decrease wages and destroy Unions.
This issue is not about training inmates, reducing recidivism, criminal justice or incarceration. Not at all. What it is about is the dollar and how many $$$'s governments can save and put into the pockets of their corporate partners. Unless and until we realize and understand this, nothing is going to change.