By: Kate Morgan, Research & Education Assistant
In the United States modern prison industrial complex (PIC), there are about 2 million inmates, marking the U.S. as the largest prison population in the world and the second highest incarceration rate per capita. The U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s population. With historical roots involved in using inmates as labor for agriculture, textiles, and other manufactured goods, this practice still continues by means of privatizing labor.
Under the 13th amendment, forced labor is legally allowed when a person is imprisoned. Prisoners will never have “family emergencies”, ask for a pay raise, or refuse work without the threat of solitary confinement. This makes them the ideal economically conservative employee. Private companies and organizations will lease work out to prisons, and the prisons will then use their inmates to perform the needed work, whether it be mining, agricultural work, making military weapons, or making garments and clothing for Victoria’s Secret. The pay grade for an inmate doing this work can range from nothing to $3 per hour varying per state, with Texas and Georgia legally not having to pay anything to their inmates/employees.
There are multiple ways that PIC forced labor can be viewed. Advocates of labor and prisoner rights state that this is a gross violation of human rights, asserting that businesses and prison systems exploit inmates. On the other side of the argument, some proponents of prison labor state that since consumers want products and food for low prices, the cost has to be reduced somewhere in the supply chain. In addition, these prisons are giving inmates job training that could potentially reduce recidivism rates among released prisoners. Overall, there are more costs than what would be considered ideal. When humans are exploited to produce goods and services, backlash occurs. Whether it be media criticism that outpours to consumer and citizen criticism, there need to be serious federal, state, and local policy changes that occur in order to restructure the current exploitative labor situation within the PIC.
Attributes to the photo found here.