Crime is decreasing in the U.S., both violent and non-violent crime. So why is the prison population growing? Clearly, warehousing massive numbers of the poor in prisons serves other purposes besides “protecting” society from crime.
Prisons have never truly been “correctional centers” or places for “rehabilitation.” Today they do not even try to fake interest in reform. Educational programs inside are being slashed as corporations continue to set up shop behind prison walls. In the 1930s and 40s, the market for prisoner-made goods was curtailed through legislation, but, as the mood of the country shifted to ever more punitive, the 1984 Crime Control Act encouraged the re-growth of prison industries. Originally it was intended as another form of control over prisoners in dangerously overcrowded conditions. Today, the federal system as well as every state system uses inmate labor. And “corrections” is big money!
Most prisoners do not have a choice about working for slave wages, which can be totally free or as low as 8 per hour. Corporations are making huge profits from prison labor!! Also, commissary prices on personal hygiene products, food items and other necessities exceed prices on the outside. To buy tampons, many women inside must work at least 30 hours. Those working for some of the lowest wages must put in four hours to buy one 32 postage stamp!
The prison system gets away with exploiting prisoners while paying them slave wages by the 13th Amendment, which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States . . .”. If prisoners were learning valuable skills to take with them and use after they are released, the prison labor programs might be more useful. However, most of the jobs inside are unskilled. Many industries which use prison labor have actually closed plants – all of their plants are in prisons or out of the country! If a prisoner wanted to continue doing the same work after release, she would have trouble finding employment.
In Chowchilla, as in many other prisons in the United States, some women must work on farms. Farm labor involves the use of dangerous equipment and toxins, and is particularly harmful to women and men who have lived in cities all of their lives. The training on prison farms is minimal – the prison guards do not care enough about the inmates to teach them the skills needed to perform the difficult work.
Let’s follow those who fought to abolish slavery and continue until all forms of slavery are truly eradicated.