In A Nutshell
Since the late ’70s, US prisons have provided corporations with cheap, plentiful labor in the form of incarcerated people, most of whom earn less than $5 a day. Nearly one million prisoners are made to produce a variety of items including, somewhat ironically, bulletproof vests for the police. Companies known to participate in the program are Chevron, AT&T, Starbucks and, perhaps least surprisingly, Wal-Mart.
The Whole Bushel
In 1979, the US Congress established the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program with the intention of gainfully employing inmates in order to better facilitate their re-entry into society after their prison terms are over. Unfortunately, corporations and the people who run the prisons have turned it into what amounts to slave labor, often at the expense of private-sector jobs. Many of the workers are paid less than $5 a day, with many receiving only small amounts of time taken off of their sentences.
The worst area that takes advantage of this system is the agricultural industry. Because of the immigration laws in the US, it has gotten harder for farmers, especially in the southern states, to utilize cheap migrant labor from Mexico and Central America. They complained to their respective local and state governments and were granted prisoners to serve in their fields. Most workers in agribusiness are paid as little as 10 cents an hour and some are not even given the choice to opt out of the program. (Arizona has a state law that requires all able-bodied prisoners to work.)
Abuses, while not necessarily widespread, occur in the program, as they do in the regular prisons, with one anonymous inmate stating, “When ‘N’ complained of chest pains, the farm representative refused to allow her to stop working. (She later collapsed.) While the woman was receiving medical attention, another farm representative stated, ‘Oh, so now they’re gonna start faking f—king heart attacks to not work. Great.’ ”
In addition to working in fields, picking our fruits and vegetables, prisoners are used to manufacture components for military planes and helicopters or army camouflage uniforms. They are also used in recycling plants that process military tanks and vehicles, cleaning and reassembling them for future use. The items are usually coated in toxic dust, made of lead, mercury and arsenic. To make matters worse, the prisoners are often forced to work without safety equipment, goggles, or masks.
Show Me The Proof
How US prison labour pads corporate profits at taxpayers’ expense
Prison Labor Booms As Unemployment Remains High; Companies Reap Benefits
The Pentagon & slave labor in U.S. prisons
Martori Farms: Abusive Conditions at a Key Wal-Mart Supplier