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Secret Wickedness

US Prisons; Corporate Slave Labor Camps

By James Donahue

What do the nation’s "War on Drugs," the privatization of the operation of American prisons, our military involvements in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nicaragua and other places around the world have in common? The wars have opened secret drug commerce into the United States which feed the drug war, keep an army of police, court officials and prison officials living high on taxpayer dollars and provides an estimated 2.3 million slave laborers for private industry.

It is all part of a complex rip-off of America, at taxpayer expense, that provides disguised slave labor camps for big business.

It has been common knowledge that prison inmates have been given jobs making automobile license plates and other items for use by the military, postal workers and other government-run offices. And "chain gangs" of state and county detention facilities have long been put to work, under guard, to clean brush along highways and maintain public parks and government properties. But now that a large part of the state and federal prison system has been turned over to private corporate operators, this enslaved labor force appears to have been made available to labor for private industry.

The United States boasts to be "the land of the free" and we teach our children in school the Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. But slavery has never gone away. It has existed in the sweat shops all around the world, and including America, where an army of workers has been forced to work long hours at low wages manufacturing the products produced by industry.

Notice the political battle now occurring throughout America as right-wing conservative politicians manipulate the destruction of organized labor. The union shops fought successfully against the sweat shop mentality, and this has caused industry to move overseas in a quest for cheap non-union labor.

The privatization of American prisons in recent years, however, has opened the door to seizing upon this niche market for a massive reserve army of workers that are being forced to work for industry for pennies a day. And don’t think it isn’t happening.

Mostly because of the drug war, the United States currently maintains the highest prison rate per capita in the world. As of 2009, the rate was 743 per 100,000 of the national population. The crowding of local jails, state and federal prisons, and the rising cost of housing prisoners and building new prison facilities has led to the concept of privatization of prisons. As of 2001, the average cost of housing a single prison inmate was costing taxpayers just over $62 a day. Imagine how much higher that cost has risen in the last decade?

Two of the largest private corporations that own and contract with the government to house prisoners are Corrections Corporation of America and G4S. A recent report in Tom Dispatch noted that both are selling inmate labor at wages of between 93 cents and $4.73 per day to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T and IBM.

These companies actually lease factories in prisoners, or the prisoners work on the outside making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses and manufacturing shoes and clothing. A lot of it is stuff folks are buying at stores like Wal-Mart.

What a perfect slave labor set-up they have created right under our noses. Most people don’t think much about what is going on in our prisons. If they are convicted felons, they deserve the sentence imposed upon them by the courts. At least that is the implant we have been given for personal perception. But what if you personally know someone, or are personally related to someone condemned to serve time in one of those facilities? Suddenly the truth of what is happening to them becomes more real and personable.

The prison system has become forced slave labor camps in the United States, and possibly all over the world. Indeed, Wall Street investors and big corporations are investing in the prison industry because the use of the inmates allows them to find low-cost labor without worrying about things like health and unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick time, strikes or all of the other things demanded by organized labor. The prisoners can be threatened with things like solitary confinement if they refuse to work. Best of all, the companies using this labor force do not have to consider moving their plants overseas in search of cheap labor. Most of the cost of housing these workers is borne by American taxpayers. For industry it is a win-win situation.

While the United States has about five percent of the world’s population, we house a quarter of all the prisoners in the world.

This is why our elected "leadership" refuses to put an end to the terrible war against drugs that is tearing up the heart of our nation. It is why the drug cartels are conducting wars in the streets over which gang gets to profit from the sales of the flow of narcotics. It is a major reason America appears to be in a constant state of war in countries where marijuana, poppy plants and cocoa grow in abundance. It explains why we have so many police operating in our midst. It explains the high salaries paid our lawyers, judges and court workers. It is all big business. It is all for money.