There was a time when the US condemned China’s use of prison labor because it undercut the labor market and gave them an unfair advantage since the wages of prisoners were so low as to effectively constitute free labor. I was under the impression that in the US it was illegal to use prison labor for that same reason.
So I was surprised to read this story about the state of California resisting efforts to expand its early parole program because they would lose a valuable source of cheap labor.
When I looked into it further, I found that the use of prison labor has expanded greatly in recent times.
Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.
According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.
That’s a lot of stuff. I wonder why the private sector that also makes these items is not protesting at the unfair advantage that cheap prison labor provides.