The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?
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.
There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”
Read more >>Here<<
One major surprise: prisons appear to be paying incarcerated people less today than they were in 2001.
The average of the minimum daily wages paid to incarcerated workers for non-industry prison jobs is now 86 cents, down from 93 cents reported in 2001. The average maximum daily wage for the same prison jobs has declined more significantly, from $4.73 in 2001 to $3.45 today.
What changed? At least seven states appear to have lowered their maximum wages, and South Carolina no longer pays wages for most regular prison jobs – assignments that paid up to $4.80 per day in 2001.
With a few rare exceptions, regular prison jobs are still unpaid in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
9 Surprising Industries Getting Filthy Rich From Mass Incarceration
Private prison companies aren't the only ones benefiting from America's prison-industrial complex.
Here is the list:
1. Food Supply Companies
Read More About These Industries HERE
Inmates Aren't the Only Victims of the Prison-Industrial Complex ----
The worst part of Dave's job as a death-row guard happened early morning on the day of an execution. After taking the inmate for his final shower and instructing him to change his clothes for his last visit with his family, Dave would bring him back to his cell. Officers would then escort him in handcuffs to a prison van, which would take him from the Polunsky Unit in the east Texas town of Livingston to the death chamber at another prison in Huntsville, 40 miles away. "They have that look - like they know what's coming," Dave (not his real name) says. "Man, it's hard to look at them in the eyes."
If you live in Livingston, a town of little more than 5,000 an hour north of Houston, you're either employed in the timber industry or by the prison. Dave was a truck driver for 13 years, but when his employer shut down because of the flagging economy after 9/11, he trained as a corrections officer. There's more money in logging, he says, but corrections provides steadier employment. "Prisons are recession proof," he says.
But serving as a cog in a machine whose ultimate aim is to destroy human life takes a toll. After 8 1/2 years working on death row, Dave started having nightmares. He suffered from high blood pressure. "Even the younger guys get high blood pressure working there," he says. "There were times I'd get to the entrance [of the prison], go through screening and do an about-turn, go back into the parking lot and call in sick." So Dave transferred from death row.
Prison-reform groups tend to focus on the plight of inmates - their conditions under incarceration, getting them access to legal counsel. One is not naturally inclined to feel sympathy for the enforcers in this draconian system. But working in a crushing environment where violence is the norm, guards are victims as much as victimizers.
"Prison functions in entirely the opposite way from the small, healthy family or community," says Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist who sat on the panel that went on to define post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the 1970s and who has served as an expert witness for countless inmates on death row. "It does to a human being what a zoo does to a wild animal."
More than 25 % of prison guards suffer from PTSD compared with 3.5 % of the general population, according to a study by the Desert Waters correctional outreach center in Colorado. Corrections officers commit suicide at more than double the normal rate. They are collateral damage in a system that embodies one of the most devastating uses of state power.
Dave recounts the harrowing story of a fellow officer on death row who 5 years ago was working a night shift at the Polunsky Unit. During his break, he walked out into the parking lot, climbed into his car, pulled a gun out and killed himself. "He went undiscovered for an hour even though he was in the front row [of the parking lot] at the end spot practically at the entrance to the gate house," Dave says.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will only confirm that on December 4, 2008, "a correctional officer assigned to the Polunsky Unit was found deceased inside a private vehicle from a self-inflicted gunshot wound."
Set on 472 acres surrounded by forests and fields, Livingston's Polunsky Unit is one of 111 state prisons overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. It is a bleak, foreboding complex connected by walkways and encircled by 2 perimeter fences of razor wire with guard towers. The buildings that house Texas's male death-row inmates (women are housed at a prison in Gatesville) are set off from the others: 3 concrete rectangles with white roofs, each with a circular recreation area at the center. In total, the prison houses 2,936 inmates, 279 on death row, and employs 691 people.
Since 1976, when executions resumed in the United States after a moratorium, Texas has executed the lion's share of the condemned: 515 people, compared to Oklahoma, which is next with 111. In total, 1,382 people have been executed in the US since 1976.
Like the inmates themselves, prison guards spend their days in a windowless concrete bunker. "There's no field of vision," Dave says. "All you're looking at is concrete walls and steel bars all day long."
For officers on the day shift, work begins at 5:30 am and lasts until the night shift takes over at 6 pm. In the death-row wing, 3 officers are assigned to each of 6 pods. One mans the "picket," which operates the doors and controls communications. The 2 others serve as "rovers" on the floor, responsible for ensuring each inmate showers (if he wants to), takes an hour of recreation and is served food in his cell.
"It doesn't sound like much," Dave says, "until you consider you have to go to each cell to do each one of those things, and you have time limits. Each inmate has recreation separately, and if you're going to take an inmate out of his cell, you need 2 guards there."
Strip-searching inmates to look for weapons has always been common practice for high-risk inmates. So-called "shanks" can be forged from almost anything - plastic food containers, metal pulled off the bunks or walls, even papier-mache. Before each inmate can exit his cell, he must strip and change clothes, then be handcuffed through the slot in his door. "That tires you out, too," Dave says, "looking at these naked guys all day long - 1 naked inmate after another.... I'm sure it's dehumanizing for them too."
As with the inmates themselves, officers are under constant threat of violence.
In 2013, only 3 incidents involving exposure to bodily fluids by death-row inmates were reported to the TDCJ's Emergency Action Center, the division that gathers information regarding potential risks to the agency. In 2012 there were 10. But inmates throw sour milk and other liquid at staff on an almost weekly basis. Dave says this happened to him many times.
Luckily, serious staff assaults resulting in injuries that require treatment beyond first aid are few and far between. In 2013 and 2012, there were just 2 involving a death-row inmate. In 2011 and 2010, there were 3 each year.
Inmates often set fires using paper and other flammable items - even ground-up Tylenol. After setting the items on fire, they typically throw them at officers. Inmates have even been able to start fires by sticking pencil led or razor blades in sockets.
"I spent my first 4 years on the night shift," Dave adds. "And I can't remember how many times I [had to extinguish] fires on E or F pod. One thing they can do - it's amazing - they're all locked in their cells and they have nothing but the screen mesh on the door and they can set a fire right in front of their cell."
Using the same method, they also make what are known in prison as "stingers" - homemade devices to heat water that they can then use to make coffee or as a weapon. Dave explains: "They have hot pots in their cells, but they're preset to heat water to a certain temperature. It won't boil. It's lukewarm. But with stingers they can get liquid boiling hot."
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, inmates in the United States typically spend more than a decade awaiting execution. And despite the fact that some are violent to the men and women who guard them, and others just a pain, it is typically not relief corrections officers feel on the condemned man's last day.
Lee Taylor was no saint. In the eleven years he was on death row in Texas, the 245-pound murderer nicknamed "Tiny" caused constant problems for his guards at Polunsky, always angling for a fight. Even the other inmates thought he was a "knucklehead."
On the morning of his execution, June 16, 2011, Taylor was in his cell on F-pod, known as death watch. A female officer who had known him for several years - and been on the receiving end of some of his troublesome behavior - arrived at his cell door to take his fingerprints. In 1 of the more bizarre rituals of the death-penalty process, inmates about to be escorted to the death chamber are fingerprinted to ensure the state executes the right person. After Taylor was taken from his cell to the waiting prison van, that officer broke down in tears. As Dave says, "You get to know them. You wouldn't call them friends, but you understand them a bit. You get that human contact. So when you're getting them ready for that last day and they have that lost look in their eyes, you can't help feeling a little for them."
* * *
While the physical repercussions of working in prison have been studied, only recently have academics begun to study the mental stress of prison life on guards. Caterina Spinaris, a psychologist who runs the Desert Waters correctional outreach center in Colorado, is one of the emerging scholars who studies "corrections fatigue." A couple of years ago, she published a study on PTSD and depression among US corrections workers. She estimated that 26 percent of corrections staff suffer from depression - more than 3 times the rate for full-time adult workers in the general population. Among the emotions corrections officers most frequently report experiencing are shame and guilt.
Spinaris attributes the elevated rate of PTSD and depression to a variety of stressors, including "witnessing offender-on-offender violence in real time, discovering bodies of offenders who committed suicide, or being physically assaulted, or threatened with physical or sexual violence."
After twenty or 30 years working on death row, Lance Lowry, president of the Huntsville American Federation of State County Municipal Employees, the largest corrections officers' union in Texas, says the constant battle "messes" with corrections officers. "You can definitely see them age after working in there," he says. "Day after day, bombarded with high noise levels, high stress, not knowing if you walk through that gate whether it'll be your last time."
Lowry says facilities like Polunsky are so large that, like the inmates themselves, corrections officers are reduced to "just a number." He says that although no studies have been conducted on depression and PTSD among Texas prison officers specifically, anecdotally there is a high level of depression among his members.
Although he could never work on the death row wing at Polunsky again, Dave insists it was just a "rough job." "Did I ever see a doctor? No," he says. "But I couldn't wait to get away from the place."
(Source: The Nation)
Meet the Prison Bankers Who Profit From the Inmates
With the ultimate captive markets, prison bankers and state jailers make money off high fees for financial services.
This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.
Read the story HERE.
Antique oak desks, accompanied by burgundy leather chairs embossed with a gold state seal, suggest an occupant worthy of respect.
While reality often falls dismally short of this august image, it can be said that the Texas Legislature hangs out in some very cool digs.
But this particular look of distinction is not one the average interior decorator can duplicate. The desks on the floor are indeed historic; the chairs belong to the elected members. Replicas are available for purchase through Texas Correctional Industries, but only government entities - and Texas legislators - are eligible to purchase them. That is, unless you're willing to open your checkbook to State Rep. Debbie Riddle.
On Thursday, the Tomball Republican has scheduled the "Riddle Executive Leadership Summit," to be held at the Lanier Theological Library - a stunning facility built by Houston lawyer Mark Lanier.
The successful plaintiff's attorney himself will be one of the "esteemed discussion leaders" at the event, along with Houston businessmen Paul J. Sarvadi and Fred S. Zeidman, as well as Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Besides scintillating conversation, the event will feature a "buffet reception" - and some heirloom-quality party favors.
In her invitation, Riddle includes several "participation" levels: $1,000, $3,000, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000.
Each level of payment is awarded a corresponding gift, including the Capitol furniture produced by Texas prisoners. A color brochure with photographs of each gift was thoughtfully folded into the "Leadership Summit" invitation.
"Please note the donor gift items are exclusive and cannot be purchased on the open market," Riddle advises. "The descriptions seem inadequate for most of these items, and you will find an enclosure with photographs to show their beauty."
Besides the desks and chairs from the House chamber, the brochure offers a hand-tooled leather duffle bag, a hand-tooled leather-top coffee table and matching chair set, a Lone Star flag cutting board, a hand-carved Capitol bench and a hand-tooled leather rifle case. Oh, and a really special carved rocking horse with a hand-tooled saddle. (That'll run you three grand.) Riddle isn't exaggerating; they're all stunning.
I called Riddle to ask if she thought her party swag might be considered just a little over the top, especially since she is allowed to purchase the items by virtue of her elected office. Isn't that a tiny bit like using your office to raise campaign funds?
"It's no different than 'if you donate this or donate that you get a T-shirt and a coffee mug,' " she told me. "We can purchase these items from the prison system as gifts. We can buy them, but we cannot sell them. I am not selling these any more than I am selling a T-shirt (given to a donor.)"
Not subtle, Riddle admits
Riddle, who graciously returned my phone call immediately, was entirely sincere and open about her decision. "It is not at all uncommon for elected officials, way, way long before I got here, if they have a donor who has been very generous to them, to give them a constitutional chair or a judge's chair or something like that," she said, naming the House chamber furniture.
Do lawmakers tie these gifts directly to a level of donation specified in advance? "I am an open book," Riddle replied. "I'm not doing anything different than anyone else has done, except maybe I've been a little less subtle. Maybe I'd be a better politician if I learned how to play tricks."
To put things in context, I called Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees this kind of thing. "It's up to the individual member," he said, about purchases from the prison system. He confirmed that lawmakers could not resell what they buy. As for promising the items as gifts to donors, he said, "I've never heard of that before. I wouldn't do it."
Crossing ethical line?
Austin attorney Buck Wood, an expert in state ethics laws, could cite no specific prohibition against Riddle's fundraising technique. But it didn't pass his smell test:
"You can't use the prison system as a manufacturer to attract campaign dollars," Woods said. What about Riddle's contention that lawmakers give these items to campaign contributors all the time? "I am sure there have been instances where as a token of their appreciation - not necessarily in connection with a fundraiser - that legislators have (given gifts). I find that very different from what you have described here," he said. "This is 'give me money and I will reward you by using my access to prison industry materials to get you things.' "
Riddle told me she could have had the items made elsewhere, but "this is my way of helping those guys behind bars earn some money. There are some really fine craftsmen that have made bad decisions."
Too bad that Texas legislators have exclusive access to these "really fine craftsmen." That Lone Star flag cutting board really caught my eye.
This one-hour documentary which offers viewers an in-depth look at the United States prison industry and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts.
Prison Industrial Complex: The Slippery Slope to Slavery and "Thinking Outside of The Cage"
Occasionally, one comes across open-ended questions as to how we would ever survive without the annual imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Black, Brown and Indigenous people.
But, for anyone who is accustomed to taking in the brilliant deductions we have come to expect from Angela Davis - and then knowing ourselves - it is easy to imagine that there are are a plethora of viable options that when approached comprehensively would truly allow us to "Free Em' All".
In fact, the natural progression should be to ask - how in the world will we continue to survive with these mass kicks to the stomach of the Beloved Black nation by the the tentacles of an assaultive Prison Industrial Complex.
We know that if greedy corporations are benefiting so well that they would promote the imprisonment of their own potential customers, there is something far more sinister being perpetrated against the people than meets the eye.
More and more laws are being crafted to create an ever expanding web of feigned illegality. That wide net, draped across the neighborhoods of the African Diaspora is laid specifically to arrest and convict innocent and more importantly non-violent, oftentimes addicted offenders.
Staple that to the emergence of "Nancy Grace" style agitation and a kind of collective oppressor-depressive-disorder.
Then glue that to an increasing fear and boredom emanating from their own widespread unemployment and fear of losing the ability to dominate and control.
All of these spur a reasonable facsimile of a type of lynching style model that curses and spits on the facts while making boisterous demands for public convictions (and executions). Groundwork is being laid for some very dangerous times ahead.
These institutions are either going down, or they are going to swallow up the whole Black world.
We will either evolve or devolve from here - and if we are to flourish, then new forms of thought, new approaches - radical shifts in thinking will have to be devised to handle what primarily amounts to small-scale "misconduct."
This presentation seeks to provide some history, some talking points to use in discussions with people who are not bent on jailing the planet, and to expose some of the horrors that are happening to our people.
Over time, you will find an increase in knowledge here on the the question of what the world might look like without the use of deliberately focused corralling of Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples of the world.
Some years ago, I wrote a relatively resourceful paper entitled "The Prison Industrial Complex: The Slippery Slope To Slavery." In essence, I will attempt to create this panel in that paper's image, and to honor the work of Angela Davis, Critical Resistance, and all activists, writers and people who love the people.
Honoring Brothers and Sisters who languish in prison who are not political prisoners in the truest sense, but who are just as innocent and are treated as if they were.
People who suffer with these ailments have more difficulty imagining new approaches to confronting assaultive behavior within our communities that would also end forever the potential of locking up innocent people.
May 29, 2009
Attack on in-prison employment based on phony claims of harm
With all the bills dying at the Texas Legislature, it's a shame to see ones making it through that do more harm than good, which IMO is the case with HB 1914 placing greater restrictions on the small number of "prison industries" programs (PIE) through which private employers pay inmates to work in a commercial business, allowing inmates to contribute to victim compensation, child support payments and even their room and board. PIE has 200-300 working inmates at any given time - only five companies currently participate.
The bill was spawned after claims by Sen. Robert Nichols and an East Texas company Lufkin Trailer when they claimed one of the prison industry programs had undercut their price and put them out of business. As I wrote the when the bill was heard in the House, however, this turned out to be an entirely false representation.
Unlike grandstanding statements to the newspapers, public companies must make statements to the SEC, in this case their 2008 corporate 10-K filing, for which they suffer criminal penalties if they're not truthful. And in those corporate filings, where they're required to list their primary competitors, the PIE-involved company wasn't even on the list:
The companies with the highest market share are Great Dane and Wabash, along with several other large manufacturers like Utility, Stoughton, Fontaine, Vanguard and Hyundai. [Lufkin Trailer] does not have a significant market share in the trailer market.
So Lufkin Trailer's competitive disadvantage wasn't really with a small shop working out of a Texas prison, it was with international manufacturers participating in an utterly globalized market. Blaming the tiny bunch of trailermakers in the PIE program was nothing but a PR excuse for a publicly unpopular decision that the company really made for other reasons. Contrary to their claims in the press that competition from prison labor had caused their demise, in their official SEC documents, the company blamed the closure of their trailer division on:
Reduced activity in the home and road construction markets as well as reduced profitability from higher fuel prices. In 2007, industry order rates and backlog for flatbed trailers decreased over 40% and for dump trailers over 25% compared to 2006 levels. In the fourth quarter of 2007, industry order rates and backlog for flatbed and dump trailers decreased almost 50% compared to the fourth quarter of 2006. Due to these market conditions, in January 2008, the Company announced the decision to suspend its participation in the commercial trailer markets and to develop a plan to run-out existing inventories, fulfill contractual obligations and close all trailer facilities during 2008.
No mention of competition from prison labor at all, though if it's really that big a deal they are required by law to disclose their competitive disadvantage. I just don't buy it. If this was as big a problem as Sen. Nichols and Lufkin Trailer claim, the company would be legally obligated to disclose the issue in their SEC filings. But they never did.
The only silver lining in the bill is that it mostly leaves alone current PIE program participants, but it places fairly radical restrictions on any new programs. That probably means we won't see Texas' program expanded any time soon. According to the Cherokean Herald:
H.B. 1914 will help stop job loss and unfair competition by:
^eliminating sweetheart deals and requiring businesses using prison labor to pay a fair market value for use of facilities
Those so-called "sweetheart deals" are being misrepresented. TDCJ gives employers low rent in the PIE program to entice any employer to work there at all. Working in a prison involves its own discomforts and anxieties for the free world workers who participate. Plus, their employees' work is subject to disruption by lockdowns, disciplinary actions, and any number of other common prison occurrences that are entirely out of the control of both the worker and the employer. For example, last fall's lockdown searching for cell phones resulted in immediate, unplanned work stoppages for PIE units that free-world companies don't have to face. So by eliminating incentives, only charities, not businesses, would ever consider working with the PIE program.
Meanwhile, the "notification" requirements are an attempt to drum up opposition. But a "sworn statement" that a PIE program might harm their business is not remotely the same as demonstrable proof that's the case, though the bill seems to imply it should be accepeted as such. As shown above, in the example spawning the rule, the claim about this program putting Lufkin Trailer out of business was demonstrably false, at least according to the company's sworn statements to the SEC.
Personally I wish they would scale this bill back in conference committee or else the Governor should veto it outright - not that I'm holding my breath. HB 1914 is a solution looking for a problem and it harms a (small) program with a solid track record of improving inmate behavior and reducing recidivism for its participants.
Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
Labels: employment, Recidivism programs, TDCJ
Prison industries might be barred from competing with private sector
Railroad cops removed from police bill
COMPILED FROM STAFF REPORTS
The Senate on Saturday approved a bill that aims to ensure that prison industry programs will not unfairly compete with private industry.
The program uses convicts to manufacture air conditioner parts, trailer beds, computer components, windows and wood veneer products.
The aim is to teach convicts skills they can use when they are released.
Under House Bill 1914, the governing board of the current program would be abolished and its oversight would be transferred to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which oversees the state prison system.
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, the bill's Senate sponsor, cited the closure of the Lufkin Trailer Co. in East Texas because of competition from a prison-industry contractor whose operating costs were much less because prison labor was used.
But Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, questioned whether the measure goes too far, and could kill a successful program that teaches convicts important job skills.
"The folks at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice say it will die if this passes," Williams said.
How are railroad cops not like fire marshals?
The Senate on Saturday approved a bill to expand the authority of fire investigators and fire marshals to make misdemeanor arrests, but not before removing such authority for private railroad cops.
Skirmishing occurred between Sens. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on House Bill 3201, which originally related to fire marshals and fire investigators.
It was later amended to allow railroad cops, already peace officers under Texas law, to issue tickets for grade-crossing violators.
That's when the trouble started.
Police groups protested that the change would give private cops too much power because they are answerable to corporations and not public agencies or elected officials.
"I don't think private companies should be able to have a private police force across the state," said Patrick, who proposed an amendment to take the railroad cops out of the bill.
"We have more dangerous railroad crossings than any other state," Wentworth shot back. "All we're trying to do here is make grade crossings safer."
Patrick prevailed, on a vote of 18-10, prompting this Wentworth response: "We're just making railroad crossings less safe. I hope you're happy."
April 21, 2009
Erecting barriers to in-prison employment
I've already lamented the bipartisan effort to scale back the too-small number of "prison industries" programs employing Texas convicts while they're incarcerated, so rather than separately analyze SB 1169 by state Sen. Robert Nichols, which is up today in the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, I'll just point readers to the item I wrote when the companion bill was heard in the House: "False claim of unfair competition could limit in-prison work programs."
Personally, I'd prefer the Legislature expand such programs instead of scale them back.
UPDATE: Sen. Nichols said in laying out the committee substitute that the altered bill will grandfather existing prison industry programs and that restrictions would only apply to new participants. The substitute also expands the number of prisoners who can participate in these programs from 400 - 750.
That's definitely an improvement, but I still think it's unwise to erect new barriers to participation in prison industries programs.
Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
Labels: employment, TDCJ
March 24, 2009
False claim of unfair competition could limit in-prison work programs
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has very few reentry programs, but one of its more successful ones is under fire at Thursday's House Corrections Committee meeting in the form of HB 1914 by committee chairman Jim McReynolds (with a companion bill in the Senate filed by Sen. Robert Nichols), aimed at further eliminating most prison industries programs on the false assumption that they take jobs away from people in the free world.
The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification or PIE program was created 15 years ago - designed to give inmates work skills and provide inexpensive labor to industry participants. PIE has 200-300 working inmates at any given time - only five companies participate currently.
Among other things, HB 1914 would require TDCJ to reject prison industries contracts "if the board determines that the contract has negatively affected or would negatively affect any employer in this state." That's so broad, it's inevitable somebody will come forward to complain. I'm told by those involved with prison industry programs that, if this bill passes, they fear it will soon eliminate PIE programs entirely.
By all accounts, PIE has a pretty good track record as reentry programs go - recidivism is low, inmates help pay for their incarceration, pay into the Crime Victims Fund, and contribute to supporting their families in the free world. PIE graduates frequently are employed upon release by their in-prison employer, helping overcome the biggest barrier to success for ex-prisoners: finding a job.
But Chairman McReynolds and state Sen. Robert Nichols are seeking restrictions that would likely choke off PIE as it currently exists. Why, you might ask?
Last year, a company called Lufkin Trailer (in McReynolds' and Nichols' districts) cried foul claiming that a PIE-based competitor, Direct Trailer, assumed an unfair advantage because they used inmate labor and paid minimal rent for their in-prison manufacturing facility. Sen. Nichols rode to their defense, convincing TDCJ to end Direct Trailer's contract. (Even so, with this supposedly unfair competition gone, Lufkin Industries continues to lay off more employees.)
The idea that in-prison manufacturers have some great advantage is a myth. For starters, Lufkin Trailer's 2008 10-K form filed with the SEC notes that "any labor disruption could have a significant impact on Trailer’s ability to maintain production levels," however think about the labor disruptions in prisons, where lockdowns, disciplinary actions, and any number of other problems free world employers never have to deal with may significantly impact labor availability.
Further, PIE programs must comply with byzantine prison rules that simply dont' affect free-world industries - for example, elaborate systems for counting and accounting for tools at the beginning and end of each shift to keep inmates from smuggling weapons or contraband.
For that matter, all existing PIE programs are relatively small endeavors that are unlikely to directly affect other Texas' businesses. Tellingly, in their official 2008 10-K statement, Lufkin Industries announced its decision to close Lufkin Trailer but didn't once mention competition from in-prison labor as a significant factor. Instead, the company blamed reduced activity in the home and road construction markets as well as reduced profitability from higher fuel prices. In 2007, industry order rates and backlog for flatbed trailers decreased over 40% and for dump trailers over 25% compared to 2006 levels.
In the fourth quarter of 2007, industry order rates and backlog for flatbed and dump trailers decreased almost 50% compared to the fourth quarter of 2006. Due to these market conditions, in January 2008, the Company announced the decision to suspend its participation in the commercial trailer markets and to develop a plan to run-out existing inventories, fulfill contractual obligations and close all trailer facilities during 2008.
Indeed, the 10-K's specific discussion of "competition" never mentioned their PIE-based competition as a serious factor:
The trailer market is highly competitive with relatively low barriers to entry.
The majority of the cost of a new trailer comes from purchased materials of aluminum, steel, tires, axles and wood flooring. Since there is minimal product differentiation in this market, price is the key driver. The companies with the highest market share are Great Dane and Wabash, along with several other large manufacturers like Utility, Stoughton, Fontaine, Vanguard and Hyundai. The Company does not have a significant market share in the trailer market.
By that account, any minor, extra competition from a small PIE outfit didn't have nearly as much to do with Lufkin Trailer's closure as macro trends in the global trailer market and competition from larger producers. Direct Trailer isn't even mentioned in the company's 10-Ks as a significant source of competition.
So the prime example being trotted out to restrict the PIE program is a false one. International market conditions and competition from larger economic players were the reasons Lufkin Trailer closed, by the company's own assessment, not some penny ante prison industries operation.
Still, Sen. Nichols in particular continues to attack the PIE program as some villainous activity while painting Lufkin Trailer as an innocent victim of a prison jobs program. What Nichols neglects to mention is that Lufkin Industries recently lost a class action racial discrimination lawsuit brought by African American employees of Lufkin Industries (Lufkin Trailer was specifically named in the suit.) The conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in February of 2008, affirmed (pdf) most of the lower court's ruling against the company, particularly related to the "discriminatory impact of [the company's] subjective promotional policies." If Nichols and McReynolds are concerned about Lufkin Trailer employees, maybe they should be seeking remedies for those problems.
I wish the Corrections Committee was looking for ways to expand the PIE program, not restrict it beyond its current, minimalist presence in Texas prisons. After all, who would you rather have released from prison - the guy who sat around the whole time working out and swapping techniques with other cons, or the guy who went to work every day at a PIE facility and learned job skills to become a productive citizen upon release?
We need more initiatives like PIE and the Prison Entrepreneurship Program to prepare inmates for success upon reentry, not less. Efforts to restrict in-prison jobs programs IMO are misguided and counterproductive to public safety.
Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; False claim of unfair competition could limit in-prison work programs
Labels: House Corrections, prison industries, reentry
Legislation would keep Private Prison Labor from competing with Free World Labor
In late February, State Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) and State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) , introduced companion bills to drastically alter state prison labor programs. According to the legislators, both bills, (SB 1169 and HB 1914) would stop job loss and unfair competition by:
eliminating sweetheart deals and requiring businesses using prison
labor to pay a fair market value for use of facilities;
The measure would certainly increase transparency and accountability for such contracts. It is a significant measure from the chair of the House Corrections Committee.
In related materials, the legislators cite a specific example of the company Direct Trailer, which paid only $1 a year to lease 70,000 sqare feet of factory from a local state prison and advertised they could sell their products for less because of prison labor.
A competitor of Direct Trailer is Lufkin Industries Inc. which claims that it could not fairly compete and sell products for similar prices. As a result, Lufkin Industies recently closed its trailer manufacturing division and layed off 150 employees.
We will be tracking the developments of these bills as they navigate their way through the legislature. Stay tuned...
Feb. 17, 2009
Texas is Number 1 Exporting State for 7th Consecutive Year
The U.S. Department of Commerce has named Texas the top exporting state in the nation for the seventh year in a row based on 2008 export data. Texas exports increased more than 14 % over the last year, totaling $192.14 billion, approximately $23.92 billion more than 2007.
"Maintaining our rank as the nation's top exporting state is proof positive that Texas has sound policies in place to cushion it from the effects of an economic downturn," said Gov. Perry. "By maintaining low taxes and reasonable and predictable regulations, business in Texas can continue to flourish, ensuring our ongoing position as a top exporting state and competitor in the global marketplace."
Texas' top export recipients in 2008 were Mexico, Canada, China, the Netherlands and Brazil which respectively imported $62.08 billion, $19.2 billion, $8.4 billion, $7.06 billion and $5.96 billion in Texas-manufactured goods and services. Texas' top exporting industries in 2008 were chemicals, computers and electronics, machinery, petroleum and coal, and transportation equipment which posted increased exports of 9.5%, 5.1%, 9.3%, 72% and 2.74%, respectively.
For more information regarding 2008 export data, please Click Here.
(source: Office of the Governor, Press Release)
This Valentine's Lingerie Is Brought to You By the Prison Industrial Complex
By Beth Schwartzapfel, The Nation
With Valentine's Day approaching, perhaps you're planning a trip to Victoria's Secret. If you're a conscientious shopper, chances are you want to know about the origins of the clothes you buy: whether they're sweatshop free or fairly traded or made in the USA. One label you won't find attached to your lingerie, however, is "Made in the USA: By Prisoners."
In addition to the South Carolina inmates who were hired by a subcontractor in the 1990s to stitch Victoria's Secret lingerie, prisoners in the past two decades have packaged or assembled everything from Starbucks coffee beans to Shelby Cobra sports cars, Nintendo Game Boys, Microsoft mouses and Eddie Bauer clothing. Inmates manning phone banks have taken airline reservations and even made calls on behalf of political candidates.
Still, it's notoriously difficult to find out what, exactly, prisoners are making and for whom. Most of the time, inmates are hired by subcontractors who have been hired by larger corporations, which are skittish about being associated with prison labor. Paul Wright, an expert on prison labor with sources inside many prisons, has broken many labor stories in his newspaper, Prison Legal News. It hasn't been easy. "As a general rule, you'll have an easier time finding out who Kim Jong Il's latest mistress is than finding out who these guys are working for," he says. (Starbucks, Nintendo, Eddie Bauer and Victoria's Secret did not return requests for comment; Microsoft declined to comment.)
Advocates of prison labor programs describe the arrangement as win- win: inmates keep busy and stay out of trouble, and employers get low- cost labor with little or no overhead. But critics, from labor unions to prisoner rights advocates, raise a host of concerns about exploitation and unfair business competition.
In 1979 Congress created the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), which provides private-sector companies with incentives to set up shops in prisons using inmates as employees. States offer free or reduced rent and utilities in exchange for the decreased productivity that comes with bringing materials and supplies in and out of a secured facility and hiring employees who must stop working throughout the day to be counted and who are sometimes unavailable because of facility-wide lockdowns.
Prisoners are often grateful for the work; when the system is working, they can learn marketable job skills and save money. "It provided a sense of independence, " says Kelly DePetris, who worked for eight years in California state prisons at Joint Venture Electronics, doing everything from assembly to administrative jobs to materials control.
"You don't have to ask people for things," she says. "I have a son, so it was nice to send home money to help with little things--school clothes, things like that." As a Joint Venture employee, DePetris made about $1.74 per hour after deductions, compared with the thirty cents she estimates she might have made working in the prison laundry. When she was released last May after serving fourteen years, she had saved $16,000, with which she bought a used car, clothes and health insurance. "It's really come in handy," she says.
Relatively speaking, PIECP accounts for a tiny fraction of the number of inmates in US prisons and jails. Some 5,300 of the 2.3 million inmates nationwide work for private-sector companies. "It's a small piece, but it's a significant piece" of the overall prison labor system, says Alex Friedmann, who served ten years in a Tennessee prison in the 1990s and worked making Taco Bell T-shirts in a PIECP silk-screening shop.
PIECP rules stipulate that work must be voluntary, that workers be paid a wage comparable to what free-world employees doing similar work are paid and that the program not compete unfairly with companies on the outside. But labor unions and companies on the outside have argued that this is impossible: there is no way for a company that pays no rent to compete fairly.
Talon Industries was a Washington State-based water-jet company whose competitor, MicroJet, had a PIECP shop inside a state prison. Rick Trelstad, a partner at Talon, contended that his company shut down in 1999 at least in part because MicroJet consistently underbid him for work. (He and an association of his colleagues successfully sued the Washington State Department of Corrections to shut down PIECP, but voters reinstituted it last year.)
Lufkin Industries, a Texas-based maker of tractor-trailer beds, claims it was run out of business because its competitor, Direct Trailer & Equipment Company, paid only one dollar per year for factory space in the local prison and so was able to offer much lower prices for the same product.
David Lewis, vice president and general manager of Joint Venture Electronics and Kelly DePetris's former boss, acknowledges that the setup has been great for his business. "They get no holiday pay. They get no vacation pay. There's no medical, dental: all that's paid for by the state," he says. What's more, if the company has to downsize, as it did recently, laid-off prison workers have few other places to look for work. When business picks up again, employees who on the outside would have found other jobs are still in prison, just waiting to be rehired. The waiting list for work at Joint Venture is up to 200 people long.
Advocates for prisoners' rights take issue with what they see as an inherently exploitative situation. Courts have consistently found that prisoners are not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
So they may not unionize. They can't agitate for better wages or working conditions, because any threats to walk off the job would ring hollow -- where would they go?
What's more, by law, as much as 80 percent of PIECP employees' paychecks is deducted for room and board, taxes, family support, victims' compensation or charity.
The National Correctional Industries Association, the nonprofit organization that certifies PIECP programs, found that participants kept only about 20 percent of their wages in the past two quarters. Friedmann, for instance, worked for two years in the late 1990s in the silk-screening shop. He estimates that after deductions for fines, fees and other charges, he left prison with $30.
"So while businesses get rent-free space, prisoners are paying for their 'room and board,'" says Prison Legal News's Paul Wright, who himself served seventeen years in a Washington prison. "Prisoners pay their boss's rent."
So this Valentine's Day, if your shopper's conscience leads you to check labels, don't bother looking for "Made in Prison." Of all the hundreds of goods and services produced by prisoners with taxpayer subsidies, only one is labeled as such: a line of jeans and denim work shirts made at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.
It's called Prison Blues.
Incarceration Nation: The Rise of a Prison-Industrial Complex
By Andrew Bosworth
In a nation originally founded on personal liberty, almost two and a half million Americans are behind bars.
No doubt, violent criminals should be in jail, but most Americans are not aware that well over half of the inmates are jailed for non-violent offenses, many of which are extremely petty: possession of marijuana, public intoxication, street hustling, prostitution, loitering, bouncing checks, failure to produce identification, and even writing graffiti.
Consider this fact: The United States has less than 4 percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
Amazingly, the US has a higher incarceration rate than China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma.
Out of 1,000 people, more Americans are behind bars than anywhere in the world except in Kim Jong-Il's Neo-Stalinist North Korea, which is basically one giant Gulag.
Why is this happening? Inmates have become the raw material for a prison-industrial complex, shoring up perpetual profits for McJails.
Corporate prisons are paid on a per-prisoner/per-day basis, and thus they lobby hard for longer mandatory sentences.
Inmates also provide cheap labor, and they are about to become, once again, guinea pigs for pharmaceutical trials. All of this signals the conversion of people into valuable bio-mass.
Incarceration makes sense, politically.
Prisons provide jobs to rural and small town Americans who would otherwise be unemployed. These workers and their families represent votes, especially in the South, where electoral majorities are White and electoral minorities are Black.
The drug war is, in large part, a race war by other means.
Study after study documents the following: African Americans are disproportionately stopped and searched; African Americans are disproportionately arrested; African Americans are disproportionately charged; and African Americans are disproportionately convicted.
And all felons are disenfranchised, never to vote again.
Texas is the most enthusiastic jailer in the nation.
The Lone Star State has become the Lock-Down State.
It has the highest incarceration rate in the nation (which in turn has the highest rate in the world).
Texas insists upon locking up people like Rodney Hulin, a 16 year old African American who was convicted of setting a dumpster on fire.
His sentence was 8 years in an adult prison.
Despite pleading to be removed to another section, prison officials refused to extract him from the general population. Hulin was repeatedly raped and infected with HIV, and he ended the nightmare by hanging himself in his cell.
But what is a 16-year-old doing in an adult prison?
It is not that uncommon:
The United States has 2,225 adolescent offenders incarcerated and serving life without the possibility of parole. The United States is the only country in the world that continues to sentence children to life without the possibility of parole.
Florida has 713 child inmates who have received adult sentences of 10 years or more for crimes committed before their 17th birthdays.
Even progressive states like California are pushing mass incarceration, locking up the hapless and the marginal. Billy Ochoa, for example, is serving 326 years in a Supermax (super maximum security) prison for welfare fraud.
Billy is an addict, an inept burglar, and not-very-good trafficker of food stamps.
Under California's Three Strikes and You Are Out law he is locked up in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day.
In Arizona, among other places, incarceration fits into a Blood-and-Soil subculture: anti-immigrant, anti-minority and neo-fascist.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for example, delights in humiliating inmates, making them wear pink and sleep in tents in 100 degree weather.
Arpaio even reduced inmate food intake to sub-human levels:
Arpaio makes inmates pay for their meals, which some say are worse than those for the guard dogs. Canines eat $1.10 worth of food a day, the inmate 90 cents, the sheriff says. I'm very proud of that too.
Arpaio, as America's Uber-Jailer, even puts women in chain gangs and then boasts about obtaining free labor for the State.
Stalin would have been proud. Instead of being jailed for human rights abuses, Arpaio enjoys high approval rates in the Phoenix area.
So the prison-industrial complex gets fatter and the prisoners get thinner.
Both private and public prisons are cutting corners on guard training, libraries, education centers and even food. From Florida:
Mushy bland broccoli stems accompanied by a greasy mystery meat endowed with undercooked rice is as good as it gets for inmates behind bars.
The Senate has proposed slicing $6 million from the current prison food budget, while the House wants to cut $11 million.
Basically, Florida wants to lower the quality of prisoner food from this already-miserable level:
˜The quality of the food is substandard, said a relative of an inmate at Marion Correctional Institution in Lowell, who asked not to be named because she feared retaliation against the prisoner. ˜The preparation is haphazard.
They're supposed to wear hairnets and gloves. You find hair in your food and you find a Band-Aid in your food. Things are so overcooked it's mush, or it's not cooked at all.
Texas, Florida, California and Arizona have vast quantities of prisoners. Of course, we'll never know how many prisoners are even guilty.
They've been locked up through mass plea bargaining agreements.
Here's the deal:
Plead guilty to a lesser crime (to something you might not have done) and go to jail for 3 years or risk a trial and the chance of doing 10 years.
It's a no-brainer.
Plea bargaining runs against the grain of the Fifth Amendment's right to a fair trial. It specifically contradicts the US Constitution, Article III, Section 2: The trial of all crimes,except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury.
That seems pretty clear.
Theoretically, an individual can choose to forfeit his or her own civil liberties, but the Constitution is degraded when plea bargaining becomes standard operating procedure, when it becomes a conveyor belt for mass incarceration, feeding inmates to hungry corporate prisons.
At this pace, the US is in danger of witnessing the development of a Gulag to jail the entire lumpenproletariat, the flotsam of society, a large and growing segment of the population, under-educated and under-employed. (But don't fret too much, since news about jails seldom makes the mainstream press.)
Women are now the fastest growing population of inmates, and many of them are young mothers with babies. Sarah B. From, with the Women's Prison Association, explains:
Nearly two-thirds of women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses; most are mothers. Their children face the emotional and developmental effects of separation, and the public incurs additional costs related to the child welfare system.
Most women in prison report histories of substance abuse, mental health issues and past trauma factors that contribute to the crimes they commit.
Prison does little to address these issues or to decrease the likelihood of recidivism.
Immigrant women and their children are beginning to experience long-term detention.
This too has been privatized, as Steve Watson and Paul Watson report:
The federal government is accepting bids on the contracts from county governments or private companies to build and run the family detention centers.
The T. Don Hutto detention center, which is privately run by a company called Corrections Corp. of America, currently interns political asylum seekers who came to the U.S. on legal visas.
Most of them are families including pregnant women and children who have never been accused of any wrongdoing but are forced to endure squalid conditions inside literal internment camps.
Every major human rights group condemns family detention centers as sites of collective punishment (which might be classified as concentration camps under international law). Of course, the federal government promotes a sanitized image of detention centers in order to hide the fact that the Hutto center, for example, is a retro-fitted prison.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is selling the concept of detention centers as miniature cities, models of healthy living.
As Anna Gorman reports for the Los Angeles Times:
The agency calls for minimum-security residential facilities that would provide a least restrictive, nonsecure setting and provide schooling for children, recreational activities and access to religious services.
This ICE propaganda is reminiscent of the Nazis, literally.
Several years before the Nazis began their extermination campaign, they invited film crews onto concentration camps to show how happy the residents were with their schools and facilities.
Work Shall Set You Free
In the 1970s, a Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger, proselytized for more leeway as to what kinds of projects prisoners could work on. Before too long, Congress amended the laws.
In a Great Leap Backward, the US Congress has repealed two federal laws (the Hawes Cooper Act and the Ashurst-Sumner Act) that virtually outlawed prison labor, making it a felony to move prison-made goods across state boundaries.
Stamping state license plates for cars was generally acceptable, but these Acts tried to end the leasing out of prisoners to private companies; they tried to eliminate prison-plantations and factories with fences.
By 1990 it was permissible for prisoners to produce products entering the stream of interstate commerce. Many of the largest corporations in America have exploited prison labor in what might be called Operation Sweatshop.
Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, Victoria's Secret and other companies have participated in prison labor programs.
Now, the federal government is taking the entire concept of prison labor to a new level: The Federal Inmate Labor Program. Details of the program can be found on the pentagon's own website.
Documents released as far back as 2005 establish Procedures for establishing a civilian inmate prison camp on Army installations. Sample text from the Federal Inmate Labor Program:
b. The Army is not interested in, nor can afford, any relationship with a corrections facility if that relationship stipulates payment for civilian inmate labor.
(3) No photograph, film, nor video may be taken or made of any inmate labor detail or member for any reason without prior written permission from both (name of the Army organization) PAO and (name of local federal corrections facility) officials.
In other words, the federal government is seeking unpaid laborers from among the pool of prisoners who would not be incarcerated long-term in other nations non-violent and petty offenders who do not need constant guard. Just as in the Third Reich, federal authorities wish to convey their good intentions; in this case, they seek to enrich the life of prisoners:
(2) Providing meaningful work for inmates.
So it is not surprising that inmates are becoming guinea pigs for medical experiments and drug testing. Big Pharma faces a shortage of experimental subjects. Ian Urbina, in the New York Times, explains how the pharmaceutical lobby is on the verge of changing or reversing federal law:
An influential federal panel of medical advisers has recommended that the government loosen regulations that severely limit the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates, a practice that was all but stopped three decades ago after revelations of abuse.
The discussion comes as the biomedical industry is facing a shortage of testing subjects.
In fact, it is precisely because of pharmaceutical experiments that federal law began to protect prisoners in the late 1970s.
Technically, under a Department of Health and Human Services regulation (45 CFR 46), prisoners are supposed to receive the same protection of human subjects as children and pregnant women.
As the law currently stands, the only research that may be conducted with prisoners has to be material to their lives.
Prisoners may not be used, under current law, as a population of convenience.
But all this may soon be rolled back.
The profit motive worms its way into all aspects of prison life.
The executives of these for-profit prisons sponsor tough-on-crime legislation and even line the pockets of politicians who back mandatory sentencing laws. It's all profitable. On correctionscorp. com there is a separate section for investors.
Corrections Corporation of America is the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states.
A recent analysis of the prison industry by Leslie Berestein is telling:
The industry leaders stock prices have rebounded. Since 2001, CCA shares have split twice and multiplied tenfold, closing recently at $26.17. The GEO Group, which changed its name from Wackenhut Corrections in 2003, has also completed two stock splits and seen its stock value jump from roughly $2.50 a share in early January 2001 to $26.76 recently.
Meanwhile, the industry has broadened its political influence, spending more to lobby agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Prisons.
A nation that once represented personal liberty, the United States, has become the world's most ardent incarcerator, turning the hapless and marginalized into inmates, cheap laborers, and guinea pigs for pharmaceutical trials.
Maria E. Castagliuolo, State Metes Living Death Penalties to Children,Florida Issues, 5 April 2008.
News Report, â€œArizona Criminals Find Jail Too In - ˜Tents, July 27, 1999.
Dara Kam, Vendor, Lawmakers Suggest Cutting $11 million from Prison Food Deals, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau, 29 March 2008.
Sarah B. From, Letter to the Editor, New York Times, 24 April 2008.
Steve Watson and Paul Watson, Federal Government Taking Bids On Construction Of Internment Camps, Infowars.net, 19 May 2008. Anna Gorman, Immigration Agency Plans New Family Detention Centers, Los Angeles Times, 19 May 2008.
Government Report, Federal Inmate Labor Program, Department of the Army, 14 January 2005.
Ian Urbina, Panel Suggests Using Inmates in Drug Trials, New York Times, 13 August 2006.
Leslie Berestein, Private Prison Industry Experiences Boom, Copley News Service, 11 May 2008.
Andrew Bosworth, Ph.D., is author of Biotech Empire: The Untold Future of Food, Pills, and Sex, & Profit, Power, and the War on Your Health.
He can be reached at:
Read other articles by Andrew, or visit Andrew's website
Prison Industry Quiz:
Answer: d) Texas prisons are a big employer
Answer: d) Texas prisons have a $1.8 billion payroll annually
Answer: d) Texas criminal justice employees would fill a large city
Answer: d) Texas is 1st Among States in Prison Share of Spending
Answer: d) Texas prisons are a big employer
Answer: d) Texas prisons have a $1.8 billion payroll annually
Answer: d) Texas criminal justice employees would fill a large city
Answer: d) Texas is 1st Among States in Prison Share of Spending
Answer: d) Texas prisons have a $1.8 billion payroll annually
Answer: d) Texas criminal justice employees would fill a large city
Answer: d) Texas is 1st Among States in Prison Share of Spending
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