US Prison Laborers Are The New Slaves

“The accursed system of slavery will fall, as did Satan from Heaven.” —Austin Steward

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

  • Phil_42

    While I’m not so worried about prisoners being forced to contribute to society, I am concerned that this could take away from honest working people and replacing their jobs. Seem like the government needs to put some protections in place to avoid this danger.

  • gillybean

    Get them on the bin rounds! It’s a shitty job that nobody else wants. I used to work through job agencies and that’s a job that was available everyday.

  • James Lando Deltoro

    Because everyone in prison is innocent! *facepalm*

  • czxzxzccxzxzczx

    yes, let’s not make murderers, rapists and child molesters actually work for the money we spend to feed and cloth them.

    That would be unfair, and against their human rights, like say killing someone.

    • Alun Daniel

      Well, firstly: not everybody in prison is a murderer or a rapist. And, secondly: this has an effect on law-abiding citizens not in prison but now unable to get a job because they cant compete with rates attainable through this morally bankrupt and repugnant practice. If you want prisoners to work, have them do jobs which directly benefit society-NOT allow multinational corporations to save a few cents on their billion dollar profit margins

      • czxzxzccxzxzczx

        I never said it was perfect, but it is what it is. It’s morally bankrupt to make people who have committed crimes to work? So what. we should lust et them sit around all day doing fuck all? Pay for their upkeep if all they are gonna do is be the equivalent of a NEET? The biggest gain may be made by soul less corporations, but at least we aren’t just giving people we send to jail a fucking free time. I mean shit, you people are talking about this like it’s some fucking Russian gulag camp. I will not defend the effect it has on honest people looking for work because that is the only thing about this I find “repungant”, so you win there.

      • miguel_g

        We’re all slaves of multinationals corporations so why they should be special?

  • Spartacross

    The prisoners maybe the ones doing hard labor. However, WE are the new slaves.

    We are made to believe that we live in order to work, when the opposite is true. Our chains maybe made out of promises of security and false hopes but they are very real. Official gambling and the societal lottery of celebrities make sure that we will keep our noses to the grindstone.

    We are paid in imaginary currencies. Currencies that have no intrinsic value other of what the Central Banks (or Federal Reserves) define. Currencies that constantly loose a good portion of their buying power due to inflation and may even loose most of their value overnight, at the whim of said Banks.

    We are given the absolute minimum to feed, house, dress and transport ourselves. If you were to carefully compare the quality of life across the First World, after taking into account wages, benefits, and the costs for food, housing, taxes and insurance you will realize that an American, a Canadian, an Italian, a German, a Brazilian or a Japanese do not have very different disposable incomes.

    Instead of suppressing dissidents, everyone is allowed to vent his grievances because in the resulting cacophony no revolution can be brewed. If someone persists or acquires a following, he is quickly discredited or summarily murdered.

    We are tagged, counted and under constant surveillance. We can be abducted and tortured and even killed by mistaken identity and no due process will ever be followed. Laws are for free men. And we are but slaves.

    • SuperWeapons

      im pretty sure we have better lives then most people living in 3rd world contrys, so shut it.

      • Spartacross

        I know. Some people INSIST on the blue pill.

    • Chester

      Use said imaginary currency to buy gold, which is a hard value problem solved.

      • Spartacross

        A grand idea! Let’s all try to do this and see what happens!

        (by the way, if you think gold has intrinsic value, thing again)

        • Mike Lupol

          Gold has to be explored and mined. It takes labor and capital to obtain gold. It has value behind it because it costs allot to get it. Just like any other commodity. Currency is just digital creation with no labor or capital behind it. That is the difference.

          On the topic at hand. Tax payers pay to house and feed prisoners. So they should give back to society. The author seems to want to make it illegal for prisoners to work for below minimum wage. I think they shouldn’t be paid at all. They chose the life of crime, they should pay back there lives to society by bettering it at low cost labor for companies. People say it takes away jobs from other Americans. But that is nonsense to say the least. Labor is freed up and people have the chance to work other jobs or create businesses to better society even more. And for the companies that are lucky enough to obtain the low cost labor, they benefit society by giving us less expensive products. People tend to focus on the increased profits of the company while forgetting that those profits come from the willing consumers that buy those lower cost products because they are better then the more expensive less adequate competitor. That is the free market at work. The only qualm I have is who picks which companies get the prisoner labor and which don’t. They obviously will have an advantage in the market place. Perhaps keep it in government run institutions like infrastructure and prison maintenance.

          • Spartacross

            I did not say that currency and gold are the same. I said, and I repeat, that neither of them have any real intrinsic value.

            Currency has value only because we all “agreed” it does.
            Whereas gold has value only because its rarity is greater than the number of people who covet it.

            See, their value lies squarely in our minds. Not in their nature.

          • Chester

            Golds value = Labour in ancient times to pay your taxes you could work as a laborer for whatever government was around, there was also an trade and barter system which placed values on good ex.1 chicken= 1 bushel of potato’s. As it was not practical to be carrying your entire stock around to trade they used gold therefore golds value is labor.

          • Spartacross

            So, you are willing to talk in cycles and even embarrass yourself with (let’s go with “pretend”) thickness, as long as the conversation does not cut close to the bone:

            – currencies have imaginary value – and that value is determined by very specific privately owned companies.

            – getting paid in imaginary currency means the individual controlling the value of the money you receive is, in fact, controlling how much of your labors go to him.

            – every measure has been taken to prevent revoking (or even limiting) this control, up to and including the murders of at least two American Presidents (JFK and Lincoln), because the slaves should never be given the hope there is a way out

            Now, which word is still giving you trouble?

          • Chester

            Proabably the part in which your so wrapped in conspiracy theories that youd link the murders of 2 presidents to people wanting to control currency….Lincoln was killed by a southern supporter and kennedy was shot by a crazed gunman/maybe 2. If i could get passed your conspiracy riddled theories on currency and monetary value i might have considered giving you the time of day, as i cant you just sound like a doucher.

          • Spartacross

            Yes. Gullible or willingly blind people like you always cry “conspiracy theory” whenever the truth is about to yank their comfort blanket away.

            Every time someone would complain about the most dark of the secret services grossly disregarding the constitutional rights of American citizens, in matters that had nothing to do with terrorism, he or she would be accused of being a “conspiracy theorist”. Then that great patriot, Snowden, pulled back the curtain and PRISM was revealed to be very real and very illegal.

            Just because some borderline personalities put out some outrageous conspiracy theories does not mean that there are no conspiracies altogether. The modern slavers count on people like you, too lazy to judge for themselves and too scared to face the truth.

            At least, read these to educate yourself:

          • Chester

            We had this guy who used to work at my company nice guy….always spouting on about the rothchilds and rockerfellers and bankers controlling the world and how we were all slaves, and how for some reason the Japanese were going to assasinate them all and free us. Nice guy, ya we fired him because he was a fucking moron just like you. See i dont got no chains noone makes me pick no cotton, as long as your not in debt you are your own person free to do what you will as long as its within common sense laws. How was Lincolns death about anything other than a group of southern sympathizers wanting to kill the Yankee president, Kennedys death is so shrouded in so many conspiracy bs that anything you say about it has 150 other reasons from other morons why your theory is wrong.

          • Spartacross

            Just because someone (possibly) suffering from paranoia exposed you to the story of the House of Rothschilds, does not mean they do not exist or that their hand is not present in history.

            Similarly, just because you fail to use your brain and cannot possibly see it with your very own eyes does not mean there is nothing between your ears.

          • Chester

            i see im talking to a big piece of shit who believes in ridiculous conspiracy’s he reads on the internet here ill debunk all of them for you now…IF and i say if these bankers etc blah blah whoever you fucking think are trying to enslave us youd think theyd be better at controlling their information and not let a dingle berry fuck up like you get to it…You believe in bigfoot and ancient aliens to? Wait! do you sport a shitty tan and a fucked up hairdue??

          • Spartacross

            Shh! Go back to sleep, sheep.
            It was all a dream.

            When spring comes, and it is time for the butcher, your Masters will sure wake you up.

            (and, no, there are no aliens or… bigfoot. These fake conspiracies (just like the reptilians/hollow Earth idiocies) they are all made up to muddle the waters. For three hundred years it has always been the Bankers).

            But you do not want to hear about this. You only care as to who will play Batman in the next movie.
            So, go back to sleep.

          • Chester

            thanks i will sleep nice my pillows made of more substance than your argument.

      • Spartacross

        The most important complaint about currency is WHO controls its value.

        The last American president who tried to take back this control from the Federal Reserve was JFK.
        And he was assassinated within the year.

        • Chester

          no it was richard nixon who eliminated the gold standard as a backing to American Currency.

          • Spartacross

            I am not talking about the gold standard. I am taking about controlling who has the right to print and circulate legal tender paper money.

            You do know that the US government prints the money at the taxpayers cost, then it gives it to the Federal Reserve for free (which is neither Federally owned nor a reserve of anything, it is a very privately owned company) which then LOANS it back to the US with interest, right?

            If not, watch this:

          • Chester

            Actually the US treasury prints money not the Federal Reserve your wrong sorry.

          • Spartacross

            See my initial post. I think it is pretty clear.

          • Chester

            See my initial reply if you dont like it invest in gold which is hard currency. Theres nothing stopping you from buying gold with “imaginary currency”. Its pretty clear cut.

          • Spartacross

            Chester, the moment gold lost its fixed value and, instead, its value is determined by the stock markets, it too has became an imaginary currency.

            If you still doubt this, try to answer the following: can the value of gold drop to zero? In the past, it could not, because a gold coin corresponded to a set amount of manual labor. Nowadays, it represents nothing, the value of gold can be brought up or down like any other currency.

            Again, what do you think will happen if we all took your advice and went out to buy gold with our dollars or pounds? So, investing in gold is a bad idea as it exchanges one imaginary currency with another, and a rarer (and thus easier to manipulate) at that.

          • Chester

            If the stock market collapsed what would people use as currency…gold and silver. Gold will always hold value and has since ancient times.

          • Spartacross

            We would use anything convenient, from soda caps to squirrel pelts (due to its scarcity, I very much doubt that gold and silver would be convenient anymore).

            In any case, it would be something we all agreed on its value. And up to this point it would be fair.

            However, the moment someone else ceased the power to decide on the value of this new currency, our labors would belong to him.

            And, once more, we would all become slaves.

          • Chester

            you a tool, youve been watching much to many conspiracy docs. your right wed use what was convienient but everything would go back to being based of gold, 1 gram = 50 pelts etc etc.

    • Gamer_2k4

      All currency is imaginary, and there’s no alternative, so I’m not sure what your complaint is there.

  • Steve Nickell

    Cry me a river, swim in the depths…

  • VI

    I really couldn’t care less if rapists and murderers are working for less than minimum wage.

  • SuperWeapons

    And when they come back to the prison, they get to live on millions of taxpayers money.

  • rlaugh

    When did listverse become a such a liberal forum? This used to be one of my favorite sites but of course the bleeding heart leftists always ruin a good thing

  • Jack Shen

    I do believe we need to force the sever criminals like rapists, molesters, murders to put back into society what they take, but we need to be careful how we proceed. We could potentially fall into the gulag situation that Russia had and North Korea has.

    Unfortunately the bulk of people in prison are minor offenders (shop lifting, pot selling…etc) and the people that fall into the sever category of offenders are hardly caught and held onto. Why is it a murderer serves 2 yrs with “good behavior”, but a college kid caught selling pot or something can be in jail for more than a decade?

  • Luciano Gianola

    @czxzxzccxzxzczx:disqus @jameslandodeltoro:disqus @rlaugh:disqus @stevenickell:disqus
    Did you skip the parts about abuse, toxins, and unsafe working conditions on purpose, or does your brain block unpleasant thoughts automatically?

    • Frodo28

      The same things are happening to other members of society because of the prisoners, I say we focus on their victims first before worrying about whether Johhny the rapist is comfortable.

  • Mike Burchard

    “…some are not even given the choice to opt out…” Well, as that is demonstrably untrue, I shall go ahead and call “bullsh*t” on that one. They made a deliberate choice to forfeit their liberty when they chose to break the law and commit themselves to
    prison. Don’t wanna be a slave to the State? Don’t choose to go to prison. It’s that simple.

  • inconspicuous detective

    i could understand the concerns listed in this bit (nut) of knowledge, but it could have done without the “feel sorry for them” bits. they’re humans, yea, but they chose to lower themselves and take advantage of, or harm others. i don’t exactly agree that *all* prisoners should suffer this fate, mind you. we have people in there for small crimes, like pirating games and movies or doing some small time drug like marajuana and probably shouldn’t be in there for long because they’re no threat to society.

    what would work is doing this slave labor thing instead of the death penalty. we could work the hardest criminals to the bone, which would cover their cost of living (food, shelter, etc) and keep the public sector’s jobs safer because there would be far less criminals forced into labor to take low wage jobs from people who would otherwise take them and actually contribute to the economy. further, the alternative to the labor would be therapy and rehab for people who have done hard drugs or are addicted, and we would see a drop in prison populations due to the intense work keeping them from living longer, as well as less repeat offenders (for those who serve their time.).

    i don’t see a reason why doing this is a bad idea, really aside from the job market taking a hit in some fashion. it could even cut down on things like defense spending (to a small degree) to have free arms and munitions made by prisoners in the country…though that idea in and of itself is full of holes. at any rate, it seems like making them work for “free” is a great idea.

    • Supbro

      * sniff sniff* can you smell that? It smells like.. like.. No one giving a fuck about your opinions/ideas (which you’ve been ripping off the people who comment before you)

      Come on brah, give us something that makes sense!

      • inconspicuous detective

        how about shut up you moron? you’re a moron, and everyone would like you to shut up. see? makes perfect sense. now apply it jackass.

    • Hillyard

      Even the military uses items from prison labor. Cleaning fluids and other things. Ft. Sill’s small prison provides labor for the post library, CIF and you can have plaques made by prisoners or purchase cut wood for your fireplace. Some of these convicts actually have a better job than some of the soldiers on that post. As far as paying these people min. wage, why? They screwed up let them pay up.

  • Robert Olsen

    They’re prisoners. They’re in jail. They’re being punished for breaking the law. Life isn’t supposed to be all peaches and cream. This is what is wrong with our country. Everybody has to be treated the same regardless if they are an illegal immigrant, a person who grow up poor and worked his way to the head of a company, or a prisoner. Do not feel sorry for these people.

  • Exlibris

    Wow! One of the worst things I’ve read in a while. Just imagine having to work for food and shelter! I mean all the time I’m sitting here having birds and squirrels delivering my pizzas and Starbucks! To think someone has to lift a finger for sustinenince. What has the world come to?

  • SiLenTPiece

    The only small difference is that the original slaves weren’t criminals.

  • Chester

    Its kinda a dangerous cycle there perpetrating by forcing prisoners into basically slave labour. I do believe criminals should have to work, but not a job that could be filled by a citizen for minimum wage(ex , digging ditches, cleaning streets etc). By using them in the agricultural industry it takes away an American Citizens job opportunity and also creates a quota system, meaning that prisons need more prisoners in order to make money. In that you get people being arrested and convicted of petty things (marijuana possession) having their lives effectively ruined, given sentences that are usually reserved for murderers and relegating them to basically slave status for the rest of their lives.

  • Jum1801

    Love those sources: The Guardian, HuffPo, Truthout (a leftist non-profit dedicated to bringing down capitalism). And a website for a Marxist Leninist political party called the Workers’ World. Jeez, just dispense with the charade and put a hammer and sickle on your submission, Comrade.

    Oh yeah, this piece of leftist propaganda is going to get a lot of sympathy, you bet.

  • Bill Alexander

    This article was offensive to actual slaves. Its like smart asses who think theyre brilliant when they say how can one support the death penalty but oppose abortion. Murderers killed people. Slaves did nothing. Unborn babies did nothing. These are criminals found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of our peers. Is the system perfect? No. But its what this country is based on so if you dont like it, move. It’s not going to change. We spend millions on these criminals. To prosecute them, to pay the jurors, the judges, give them a legal defense, feed, clothe, shelter them. Hire guards etc… They better be working. And if it costs some people jobs then oh well. So do machines, free trade, immigration etc… Im sure all the people whining about prisoner treatment also want us to allow open immigration too. There are plenty of manual labor jobs available and US unemployments been significantly falling since the end of the recession. Over 50% of people in prison are there for drugs. Dont do drugs. Dont sell drugs. Its pretty damn simple. If you dont get it get out. I dont feel sorry for people who purposefully and knowingly break the law. Its a lot different than a slave. A slave was put into slavery because of their race. Thats it.

  • Nathaniel A.

    I think they should get minimum wage and not 5$ an hour.

    • Hillyard

      Why? They’re in prison. No rent, free food and medical. They don’t need minimum wage.

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