Privatizing prisons to exploit inmates for profit is slavery and must be abolished

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good morning:

Crazy 1946 inspired me to write this article with his comment yesterday in response to Crane’s post, The Woman Who Moved During Count. He said,

I’m sitting here in utter confusion (ok, that’s not unusual, but…) and wondering why we call it a “Justice System”? Is treating a person like an animal in an effort to break their spirit considered “justice”? What possible benefit to the rest of society could come from creating a person that develops a hatred for those that enforce the rules of society because of the way they are treated after they make a mistake? I can’t help but be angered when we hear of our fellow humans being treated worse than our laws permit live stock to be treated…. and to think, we do this while calling our selves civilized…

When I took criminal law in law school, I was taught that the legitimate goals of imprisonment were punishment, rehabilitation and deterring others from committing crimes. The emphasis was on locking up violent offenders for long periods of time. Nonviolent offenders usually were not sentenced to prison unless they had prior convictions. Therefore, the majority of prison inmates had been convicted of violent crimes.

The idea to rehabilitate prisoners by working through their addiction problems, teaching them skills to make an honest living, and helping them reintegrate into the community after serving their sentences was a wonderful idea. Getting their addictions under control and setting them up with a job that paid a living wage, a place to stay, and a support group led by a competent counselor was a great way to prepare them to support themselves and accomplish something positive in their lives. Rehabilitation was based on the Golden Rule. Treat a person with respect and they are more likely to respect themselves and treat others with respect. Train and set them up with a skilled job that paid a living wage and a support group to help each other through rough spots seemed as perfect a solution as is humanly possible to turn convicted felons into well adjusted and productive citizens.

Unfortunately, the programs, training, jobs paying a living wage, places to stay and community support required lots of money to have any chance of success and the federal government was more interested in using the War on Drugs to lock people up, specifically black males, for most of their potentially productive years. Rehabilitation was mocked and dismissed as a costly and impractical liberal solution to solving crime. Convicted offenders were demonized and legislatures cranked out statutes increasing sentences. Programs in the prisons were eliminated and inmates were released into their respective communities after serving their sentences without any assistance. The situation they faced was literally sink or swim. No surprise then that recidivism rates increased as institutionalized prisoners could not survive in a hostile environment without job opportunities and no way to support themselves financially without committing crimes.

It doesn’t take a weather man to tell which way the wind blows.

The dire situation got much worse when corporate America realized there was a lot of money to be made reinstating slavery by replacing state run prisons and operating them on a for-profit basis exploiting the prisoners as slave labor. Aided and abetted by politicians eager to reduce, if not eliminate federal and state governments by privatizing their activities and selling off their assets to reduce debt, corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) began contracting with various states to house their prison inmates. Amazingly, the corporations insisted on and many states agreed to so-called lock-up quotas requiring states to pay penalties if they failed to send enough people to prison to keep the prisons full.

We need to get our priorities straight. The grotesque return to the exploitation economy that created and sustained the antebellum South is extremely alarming. Greed is not good. Greed is evil. Slavery by any other name is still slavery. Exploiting human beings for any reason is morally and ethically unacceptable. If you think about it, people who profit from exploiting others actually represent a greater threat to humanity than all of the serial killers put together. Two words: Human trafficking.

Exploiting prison inmates for slave labor is not far behind.

Corruption in the form of financial kickbacks to judges for keeping prisons full of inmates, whether they deserve to be in prison or not, has already happened.

A couple of years ago, for example, two juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of accepting kickbacks from the developer of a privately owned juvenile detention center for sentencing over 3,000 children to draconian prison terms.

Kids for Cash is a documentary about the case produced by Robert May. It recently premiered at the DOC NYC Festival and will be released early next year. Here’s Robert May answering questions after the premiere.

Fred says, “Check it out.”

34 Responses to Privatizing prisons to exploit inmates for profit is slavery and must be abolished

  1. Two sides to a story says:

    OT – sorry. Curiosity has me asking a question. Frank Taafe is now taking donations for Fogen at his blog –

    There’s a commenter there who uses the avatar of a Cheez-it cracker box with the handle Creepy-Ass-Cracker – anyone know if this is FT replying? I’ve seen this avatar around on comments at various news sites since the trial.

  2. Tzar says:

    It should be presumed that at some Saturn would devour his son

  3. texad says:

    Soulcatcher, your last sentence goes to the sad truth of the matter.
    “Slavery never ended, it just took on another form.” Of course it’s true; we don’t even have to be Constitutional scholars to understand that. The intent is clear:

    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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. -13th Amendment, Section 1, U.S. Constitution

    Douglas A. Blackmon wrote a very moving book which I consider a must read on this subject: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.

    The 13th Amendment has been tweaked over the years so the punishment fit the crime within this awful paradigm: the Black Codes in Southern states post-slavery, loitering laws, stop and frisk laws, mandatory-minimums as related to certain crimes, profiling in our schools. Another book on my reading list which addresses some of these issues is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

    Even low wages and minimum wage jobs play a part. Sometimes the consequence is death. I am thinking of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York city. 123 women and 23 men died in horrible ways I can’t even imagine. They were working in conditions that they had protested about only a year earlier. Conditions that could be called slave conditions. They were reportedly told many times that if they did not like the working environment, they could quit because many more were waiting to replace them. New immigrants working for low wages, horrible conditions, long hours, teens and pre-teens working instead of going to school, locked in a room with flammable materials against all safety violations. The 2 owners managed to escape the inferno by jumping the roof to an adjacent building. They were prosecuted but acquitted of wrongdoing-even though many survivors testified that the owners usually ordered a main exit door be locked to prevent theft. The families eventually received a settlement of $75.00 each. The two owners received $60,000 from the insurance company.

    The criminal “justice” system has become a finely tuned machine. Once you get caught up in it either through probation or prison [especially if you are young] it is extremely hard to get out of it’s clutches. When you add privatization to the mix, you are doomed. For instance, I found a list of the GENERAL Conditions of probation in one southern state:

    (1) Avoid injurious and vicious habits;
    (2) Avoid persons or places of disreputable or harmful character;
    (3) Report to the probation supervisor as directed;
    (4) Permit the supervisor to visit him at his home or elsewhere;
    (5) Work faithfully at suitable employment insofar as may be possible;
    (6) Remain within a specified location;
    (7) Make reparation or restitution to any aggrieved person for the damage or loss caused by his offense, in an amount to be determined by the court.
    (8) Make reparation or restitution as reimbursement to a municipality or county for the payment for medical care furnished the person while incarcerated.
    (9) Repay the costs incurred by any municipality or county for wrongful actions by an inmate.
    (10) Support his legal dependents to the best of his ability;
    (11) Violate no local, state, or federal laws and be of general good behavior;
    (12) If permitted to move or travel to another state, agree to waive
    extradition from any jurisdiction where he may be found and not contest any effort by any jurisdiction to return him to this state.

    And of course the judge can add to this list with any other conditions that he/she desires. Tough? Yes indeed. Punitive? Yes. Too harsh? Hmmm. Programmed to fail? For sure. All I can say is even the most law abiding citizen would have problems following ALL of these condtions. Violations lead to revocation of probation (either all or in part) and entry into the prison system. Which then makes private companies like CCA $$$$$. So is there any surprise that the criminal justice system is not really interested in re-habilitation?

    • lurker says:

      Locally we have both addiction and mental health diversions for non-violent offenders. They provide and extended, but targeted and supposedly well-supervsed period of probation, enforced by the possibility of jail time if they don’t follow through with treatments, etc.

      These alternatives are vastly underused–perhaps because they are seen as being soft, or perhaps they are not well known. Sad.

      • Soulcatcher says:


        This is what I have heard about the addiction deversion here in Ca. The supposedly well supervised period of probation consist of a class once a week for an hour or two, and the offender is called once a month to go in and drug test. It does keep the non-violent offenders at that time from serving time, however a good majority do end up back with the same offence or commit other crimes.

        The problem I see with the program, is that most of the offenders use it as a means to aviod being incarcerated. Any drug user can tell you ways to pass a drug test, and many people who apply for jobs that require drug testing have stories of how they pass. A person addicted to drugs is not going to stop, unless they want to. If they don’t have the want, it isn’t going to happen. Incarcerating is not going to solve the problem, drugs are available and used there. Not only are they brought in by visitors, correctional officers sell them to prisioners as a way to subsidize their income. I have talked to people who have been in the prision system that say any drug you want is available. One would think that a prisioner would come out drug free, but that generally is not true. Intervention can be sucessful, but only if the person wants the help. Drugs are smuggled into rehab centers as well. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

        • lurker says:

          Some years ago, Soulcatcher, I recall a study comparing the recovery rates of those who went into treatment voluntarily as opposed to those who ended up there as the result of some form of intervention. They were identical.

          Yes, people agree to treatment to avoid incarceration (although some do prefer incarceration to dealing with their addiction). But that is exactly the point. Incarceration provides an important means of leverage. Is treatment perfect? Absolutely not. I think that the rates of sobriety at one year range from something like 10% to 20%, depending on the addiction and the program. Women who face losing their children have a somewhat higher success rate.

          The intensity of the program really should be suited to the addict, however, it is not necessary for the court to provide all needed services. While they may well provide some weekly group counseling, they should also be requiring something along the lines of daily 12-step meetings, regular contact with a sponsor, and perhaps things like job-seeking. It is certainly not unheard of for addicts to have to get signed documentation of their attendance at 12-step meetings.

          However, compare this to incarceration, at a very high cost–with very little likelihood of treatment for addiction (or mental health issues).

    • Both Alexander’s and Blackmon’s books are essential reading. I add to the list Robert Perkinson’s Texas Tough- The Rise of America’s Prison Empire. From the backflap: “If you want to understand how politics, not crime control, governs today’s prison population, read this book. Anyone concerned with justice and fairness should place this on their must read list.”

      Imho, all three books are essential reading.

      • texad says:

        I’ll add Perkinson’s book to my reading list. Any research that sheds light on how we got in this sad, sorry, and scary place is essential. Knowledge is power-and we the people must demand real reform.

  4. colin black says:

    A private prison in UK run by group 4 a security company.

    Came under fire for under bidding call companys even those out soursed to the lesser developed parts of the World..

    Whilst Im all for giving inmates a chance to rehabilitate .Having them let loose on a telephone to cold call people for Surveys seems the hight of stupidity.

    The fact that all calls are recorded an monitored is of no comfort to me.

    As all the calls will also be monitored by those making the calls.
    What better way to identify future victims then chatting on the phone an have them answer a survey???

    • Soulcatcher says:


      Many of our call centers have been outsourced to other counties for much cheaper wages, more US jobs gone. Also I have heard that some prisions now have call centers. Inmates are allowed to make calls that don’t handle any kind of money transactions, and the near nothing wages are used are used towards payment for housing them. It is said they are dependable employees, they always show up for work, and don’t call in sick.

  5. Soulcatcher says:

    crazy, you are right, poverty and crime go hand in hand. If there were any concern to lift people out of poverty, millions of jobs would not have gone overseas, there would be a major crackdown on jobs who pay under the table, and all workers would documented to legally work. Wages would be raised to at or above the poverty leval, and employers such as our big box stores, would be penalized for there scheme of hiring workers at below proverty wages, part-time workers, to avoid paying insurance and other benefits, which then have to subsidized by the government.

    But that isn’t what is wanted by those who control America, the rich, the politiians, the congress. the lawmakers. That would dip into their wealth, because they are so heavily invested. The money trail leads right to their door, to their gold lined pockets. They own the real estate, corperations, investments in oil, pharmacueticals. They allow imports made from cheap overseas goods, they allowed factories here to close because it can be made elsewhere cheaper, they allowed big business’s to take advantage of employees by unfair trade practices, thus putting small business with good paid skilled workers out of business. They allowed employers to steal our 401ks, pensions, reitrement, with little or no punishment, pennies on the dollar, in exchange for not addmitting any guilt. The whole systems is so corupt, they take their 24 gold plated toilet paper and wipe each others ass with it. When we have buildings blow up, we are to be expected to believe without question what we are told, it is what it is. Pass the pocorn please.

    Slavery never ended, it just took on another form.

    • lurker says:

      Some day we are going to have to come to grips with ther eality that America is a great place to be wealthy, but a horrible place to be poor. And the odds of moving out of poverty or otherwise up the ladder are pitifully small. We hold to the meme that hard work is rewarded. However work is not sufficient–and the cultural capital that is also needed–particularly education–is not equitably shared.

      Meanwhile we spend enormous amounts of money maintaining the highest per capita prison population in the world.

      • MDH says:

        Too many also accept the illogical premise that one’s compensation is in direct proportion to the wealth that they create via their labor. So the toiling poor who are the abused mule that props up society are demeaned as wealth takers just because some of them may need a form of transfer payment from the government.

        This leads right to the thread:

        How would the wealthy who hold shares in private prisons get any income unless there is a huge pool of poor to be exploited?

        Oh, and how, pray tell, is the private prison industry not benefiting from a transfer payment from “mommy government”?

        We also have too many that see money as the only measure of one’s contribution to the wealth of society as a whole?

        Hell, when my parents still lived in Detroit, there was a street living dude who would check up on them and do odd jobs, when asked. Although the guy had no real home or wealth, his acts did contribute to the betterment of the hood.

        IOW, the USA is a philosophical wasteland.

      • Lyn says:

        No place is as good as America when poor. We have food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, welfare and health care available in any emergency department in the Country. These services are available in 1st world countries too. None of which is available in 2nd or 3rd world countries where the poverty is almost unbelievable.

        • Soulcatcher says:

          Although that is true, the services we do offer here are a band-aide that do not serve a solution of reducing poverity. Welfare is for a limited time, and really does close to nothing for single people, unless you can survive on $200 a month, and have a permadent address. Housing assistance has been cut, it does benefit some, but falls dramaticly short of what is needed. I know here in calif, expect to wait for at least 2 years, and again vacancies will go to those with children. There are 20,000 in our area alone on the list, which is a small portion of those in need. Food banks are at a all time low as more people fall in need. Homless shelters are full, people are being tuned away.

          As the richest nation in the world, the fact that we have people that go to be hungry is a disgrace. As more jobs disappear, and more people fall into poverty, crime will grow. Desperate people resort to crime as a means of survival, and some find it more profitable than working for near to nothing wages. It makes people more dependant and controlled by the government, as intended to do.

          • Lyn says:

            Sadly, the poor are always with us.

          • RobUK says:

            “Sadly, the poor are always with us.”

            Yes they are, because sadly, the pathologically greedy, selfish, vain, heartless, amoral, insatiable, parasitical rich ruling elite, their useful idiots (right-wingers) and the indifferent are also always with us.

          • lurker says:

            Our local family shelter is operating at twice capacity currently and they are seeking ways to expand (asking churches to house families for a week at a time overnight). Hit the headlines in recent weeks because they are not collecting Christmas gifts–all of their storage space has been converted to living space.

            If the public housing were adequate to meet the need, such places would only need to house families in short-term crisis. As it is, crisis has become the ongoing daily reality.

            The easiest and best first move would be to increase the minimum wage dramatically. Too many big employers (read: WalMart) rely on the government subsidies that their employees can qualify for. They should be paying their own way and can well afford to do so.

        • You all have thoughtful comments says:

          Hat tip to Ametia at 3ChicsPolitico who remembered this video:

        • You all have thoughtful comments says:

          All of us need to help those in need. We can’t be a nation that sounds like those in this song:

        • RobUK says:

          “No place is as good as America when poor”.

          That sounds a lot like: “You are so fortunate you were only raped because other people get stabbed to death when they are attacked.”

          There is absolutely nothing good about being poor anywhere. It is a humiliating and soul destroying existence.

          The captains of the Shitstem are working tirelessly to ensure that the poor in the “free world” are just as impoverished as the poor in the “3rd world” by slashing away at the safety net with their “grand bargains” and making their “hard choices”.

  6. Two sides to a story says:

    Great post.

  7. crazy1946 says:

    Professor, While I am honored that you felt my comment was worthy of an article in response, I am saddened that we live in a society that causes such pain and suffering upon those amongst us so much in need. Money or actually the lack of money is IMO the root cause of most crime. If we could find a viable means of substantial reduction of poverty I suspect we would find a tremendous reduction in crime. However, as you point out in this article there is no great incentive for the business community in this nation to see this occur! In this nation, we make a huge point to celebrate the alleged elimination of physical slavery. I question why, because the ropes and chains that held people (not just blacks) as physical slaves was replaced by poverty which in essence turned people into financial slaves, remember the old song by Tennessee Ernie Ford, named “16 Tons”?

  8. Trained Observer says:

    Here’s a sad story involving an Alzheimer’s victim and a “responsible” gun owner, longer on ammo than brains.

    Since there are so many of them out there, some day Fogen may also cross paths with a “responsible” gunowner.

  9. Trained Observer says:

    I believe the public at large gets incensed when reading about people like Madoff giving stock tips to his groupies from behind bars. Ditto with those who watch football along with OJ or Sandusky from jail. Even memories of Fogen yapping on the phone with his missus about his canteen purchases provokes annoyance. Most people haven’t been exposed to scenarios captured so eloquently by Crane and have no idea what’s going on …

  10. Rachael says:

    Every day I’m thinking we (the U.S.) is the least “civilized” of civilized nations.

  11. bettykath says:

    Our local county jail just got approval from the County Legislature, w/o much discussion, to remodel a gym into additional cells so they can hold more out-of-district prisoners. Never mind that they also took away an exercise/entertainment area. And never mind that a leader of the legislature is the wife of the sheriff.

  12. bettykath says:

    I know inmates in Georgia were doing corporate work in the ’90s. Iirc, the prisons were still state run.

  13. MDH says:

    A wiki bio on Tom Murton – the man on whom the movie Brubaker was based.

    The USA has a long history of profiting on the cruel treatment of those deemed “others”, “scum” or “outcasts”. IMO, it is time to own up to this and stop lecturing the rest of the world.

  14. bronxlady1 says:

    Prisons are built on old slave plantations. Prisoners being used for slave labor is not new. Go to YouTube and check out the Sam Cooke video “Chain Gang.”

  15. Ezz-Thetic says:

    Read about that judge in Pennsylvania a while ago. Absolutely awful.

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