SJR 8212 and the Prison Slave Plantation: Dismantling the Profit Motive for Incarceration
[Front paged: NM. The author is founder of JusticeWorks!. Some updates on national and state statistics provided by Noemie Maxwell. Senate Joint Resolution 8212, if passed, would amend the state's Consitution to permit incarcerated people to work under contract to private companies.]
PRISON SLAVE PLANTATION: DISMANTLING THE PROFIT MOTIVE FOR INCARCERATION
Those words make some people very nervous and others very confused. Those who benefit from the status quo understandably get nervous with all the talk of exposing and crumbling the existing system for dealing with crime. However, even those who are otherwise informed about criminal justice reform issues, don't always understand what "profits" we're talking about, since everyone knows that the criminal justice system is the largest part of our state budget, and thus costs taxpayers dearly. Or, people say that since Washington State doesn't have private prisons, these issues don't relate to us. Not so.
We'll explain it this way. First, outlined in this piece, you'll see the legal framework that is the basis for this wording. Next, we'll provide statistics to show you which group of people is being targeted by the criminal justice system. Then, we'll explain exactly who is profiting and how. Finally, we will explain some of the costs of the prison industrial complex.
No, we aren't being extremist or inflammatory when we use the term "prison plantation". Consider the facts.
WHO IS BEING TARGETED?
In 2006, nearly 12% of black males in their mid to late 20s were in jail or prison in the United States.
In 2005 approximately 7 million -- or one in every 32 adults -- were controlled by the criminal justice system, including prison, jail, or on probation or parole. Over 60% of this population is composed of people of color. The disparity is particularly high for Black people, who comprise about 13% of the population but about 40% of people in prison or jail or on probation.
National Incarceration rates, June 30, 2006
Or you can make some international comparisons: South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society. South Africa under apartheid (1993), Black adult men: 851 per 100,000 U.S. under George Bush (2002), Black adult men: 7,150 per 100,000
Why would our country, as the leader of the "free world", lock up its Black men at a rate 8.4 times higher than the most openly racist country in the world?
According to the Human Rights Watch Press, in 1996, Blacks constituted 62.6 percent of all drug "offenders" admitted to state prisons. In at least fifteen states, Black men were sent to prison on drug charges at rates ranging from twenty to fifty-seven times those of white men.
Washington Incarceration rates, June 30, 2006
The actual incarcerated population of Washington is much larger than these state statistics reflect, however. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington State had 29,225 inmates in custody of State or Federal prisons or local jails in 2005.
Over 45% percent of all Washington State prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under the "Three Strikes" law are African Americans. (Persistent Offenders through first Quarter, 2007, Washington Sentencing Guidelines Commission.)
Twenty four percent (24%) of African American males are permanently disenfranchised under current Washington law. (Farrakhan v Gregoire, Brief of Amicus Curiae, National Black Police Association, et al., 12/11/06)
Twenty one percent (21%) of Washington state prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes.
Washington's prison system is currently operating at 105% of rated capacity.
Does this mean that African Americans are committing more crimes than white people?
According to a 2003 study by UW sociologist Professor Katherine Beckett, all of the available evidence indicates that the majority of those who deliver serious drugs (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and ecstasy) in Seattle are white, and that a much smaller percentage of those who do so are Black. And yet, according to Seattle Police Department arrest records, 62.6% percent of those arrested for this crime from January 1999-April 2001 were Black; only 19% of those arrested for delivery of serious drugs were white. Seattle was just 8.3% Black according to the 2000 census. Professor Beckett's report clearly shows that Blacks are not arrested at these extremely high rates due to being over-represented among drug dealers or deliverers. Rather, the report demonstrates that police enforcement choices are responsible for the racial composition of those arrested for drug delivery.
According to George Bridges, a UW sociologist, no one may make a decision to focus arrests, prosecution or tough sentences on Blacks, but the results may exactly be that. Our Justice Works! Analysis of Racism in the Criminal Justice System as Experienced by African Americans provides specific examples of how the criminal justice system can legally be plied at every step of the criminal justice system to incarcerate more Blacks and to incarcerate them for longer sentences than whites. This document is available via email upon request.
WHO IS PROFITTING and HOW?
THIS ALL STOPPED AFTER IT WAS FOUND TO BE UNCONSITUTIONAL. NOW, SOME WANT TO CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION TO MAKE PRISON LABOR AVAILABLE TO PRIVATE BUSINESSES AGAIN.
The following are some of the companies who have used or are currently using US prison slave labor; IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom (Oregon prisoners make clothing), Revlon and Pierre Cardin (Maryland prisoners). Other companies include MicroJet, Nike, Lockhart Technologies, United Vision Group, Chatleff Controls, Dell Computers, Eddie Bauer, Planet Hollywood, Redwood Outdoors, Wilson Sporting Goods, Union Bay, Elliott Bay, A&I Manufacturing, Washington Marketing Group, Omega Pacific, J.C. Penney, Best Western Hotels, Honda, K-Mart, Target, Kwalu, Inc. McDonalds, Hawaiian Tropical Products, Burger King, Imperial Palace Hotel, C.M.T. Blues, Konica, Allstate, Merrill Lynch, Shearson Lehman, Louisiana Pacific, Parke-Davis and Upjohn. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, furniture, limousines, waterbeds and lingerie for Victoria's Secret. And, all this labor is at a fraction of the normal cost. Are you surprised to see so many well known and big names on this list? If these corporations can increase their profits with prison labor, how would that motivate them to view the problem of "crime"? How much money do they spend to lobby for a "tough on crime" society? Fear sells.
Many people see the prison system as a source of income. Financially strapped rural communities often welcome prisons to boost their economies. Goods and services must be provided to keep imprisoned people alive. On a routine basis, prisoners are transported across state borders as they are transferred from one state or federal prison to another for financial reasons. Government contracts to build prisons have bolstered the construction industry. A major new niche for the architectural professionals is prison design. Prison construction bonds are profitable investments for companies like Merrill Lynch. Technology developed for military purposes by companies like Westinghouse are being marketed to the law enforcement and prison sectors. Telephone companies charge prisoner families extremely outrageous prices for the collect calls from prisoners trying to stay connected to their loved ones.
The prison commissary charges above normal retail price for all items sold to prisoners. Washington State prisoners are required to pay a monthly fee for cable television hookup, whether or not they have a television. If they are indigent, their debt simply grows.
Here are examples of government work being done by cheap prison slave labor. Schools throughout the world buy caps and gowns made by South Carolina prisoners. Government forms, furniture, uniforms, street signs, park equipment, license plates and tabs, and products sold by the state are produced by prisoners.
Class 3 jobs pay 42 cents an hour. These jobs include those where prisoners do the cooking, laundry and cleaning to maintain the labor force. These jobs are called "Class 3: Institutional Support" jobs.
Money is earned by the state in other ways besides jobs. The state charges prisoners 12% interest on their legal financial obligations (court costs, restitution, etc). That debt grows while they are locked up. Keep in mind that it is primarily the poor who are incarcerated. The system overwhelms these prisoners with obligations that are literally impossible to meet. Thus, they set people up for failure and promote future crimes committed in desperation. Ironically, the state fails to pay interest to prisoners on their personal saving account that is held by the state. Also, many people assume that prisoners have free access to basic items they need. Three meals a day, very basic clothing and a cell with a hard mattress, a desk and toilet are "free" to the prisoner. Otherwise, the prisoner must pay for toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and all other personal care products. All stamps, pens, and writing paper must be purchased. Everything. Again, all items must be purchased at the commissary at a price above what it costs a free person. The recreational equipment is paid with money taken from prisoner wages and personal money sent by family and friends. No, prisoners don't live for free. That is a myth some people would like you to believe.
WHAT IS THE COST OF THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX?
We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and education are what make communities safe. We believe that all people need to be treated with respect and dignity. We see that the crimes against humanity that previously took the form of slavery and Jim Crow laws are currently being replaced with the modern day institutional racism against African Americans in the form of the prison slave plantation.
While big business profits from the punishment industry, taxpayers lose. It costs approximately $27,000 per year to house one prisoner. According to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the cost of the criminal justice system to Washington taxpayers has nearly doubled in the last two decades. The average Washington household spends $1,062 in taxes per year on the criminal justice system. The main factor driving this spending has been the increased use of incarceration in county jails and state prisons. Also, during the 1990's the economic bottom line for increasing the incarceration rate for drug offenders turned negative. It now costs taxpayers more to incarcerate additional drug offenders than the average value of the crimes avoided. But they are still locking people up for drug offenses at very high rates. Why? Prison slave labor?
As budgets succumb to the pressures to increase money spent on the criminal justice system, other government programs created to support social challenges, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are moved out. The public schools, especially those in the poorest communities, suffer. Childcare, youth programs, elder care, low-income housing, arts and recreational programs suffer.
By targeting Blacks and then labeling them as "felons" unfit for employment when they are released, the prison system supports the racism of the economy and all the other institutional racist structures in this country. Claims of low unemployment ignore the huge numbers of people who have been removed from their communities and are hidden behind prison walls. Not allowing people convicted of drug delivery access to public housing cries foul when considering the huge injustices done by the Seattle Police Department as spelled out by Professor Beckett. Again, if the system is set up to cause people to fail, it is set up to perpetuate the prison slave plantation. Is that extreme or inflammatory or is it simply the way it is?
Prison is not the solution to problems associated with poverty. Prison labor disrespects the American worker. Homelessness, unemployment, addiction, illiteracy and mental illness are social problems that cannot be solved by putting people behind walls and wire. We can do better than that and we must do better! Justice Works! when its principles are not compromised.
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Related Links+ JusticeWor ks!
+ exact wording
+ Prison and Jail Inmates at midyear 2006
+ Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005
+ Washington State Department of Corrections Statistical Brochure
+ US Bureau of Justice Statistics
+ Persistent Offenders through first Quarter, 2007
+ Farrakhan v Gregoire, Brief of Amicus Curiae
+ Prisoners in 2005
+ US Department of Justice Prison Statistics, Summary Findings, 2006
+ Number of Adults in the Correctional Population, 2005
+ Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005
+ Lea Zengage's Diary
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