Captive Labor

The privatization of prisons exploits incarcerated people by removing job training and drug rehabilitation programs that offer inmates the skills they need to reenter society upon release from prison. Instead, privatized prisons implement sweatshop programs that subject their captive labor force to unsafe working conditions at slavery wages from $.23 to $1.19 per hour. Eliminating drug rehabilitation programs from prisons in favor of labor programs denies incarcerated people addicted to drugs (about ⅔ of America’s prison population) access to treatment and rehabilitation. When drug rehabilitation programs are removed and prisoners cannot participate in a labor program because they cannot pass a drug test, they are denied access to both drug treatment and to what few marketable skills the labor programs may offer. As a result, the likelihood that they will eventually return to prison is much higher, resulting in a larger prison population and increased profit for private prison corporations.

Corporations that exploit captive laborers can get away with paying less than one dollar per hour, do not have to provide overtime pay, unemployment insurance, or sick leave to their “employees”. Incarcerated people are not permitted to organize labor strikes over unjust working conditions or pay, as they are not granted employee rights. Thus, private corporations have an unfair advantage, and take away jobs from the public sector (often union jobs) and outsource them to captive laborers who are forced to work for extremely low wages. Additionally, UNICOR (FPI), a government owned corporation and the largest employer of prison laborers in the United States, enjoys a “mandatory source status,” or a legislative clause that requires federal agencies to purchase their products even if they can be found elsewhere at lower prices or higher quality.

The well-being and rehabilitation of incarcerated people should not be secondary to the profit of private interests, nor should economic incentives be given to corporations that exploit a captive workforce at slave wages instead of paying free workers a living wage.

Written by Greg Lorentzen