and Involuntary Servitude
by Don Bacon
Amendment of the Constitution, adopted at the end of the civil War
in 1865, abolished slavery, but this same amendment expressly permits
prison slavery and involuntary servitude.
XIII – SECTION 1
nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof
the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the
United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population and almost
25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Are Americans more criminal
than other folks? Or are there incentives that give the US the dubious
honor of leading the world in prison population.
has its roots in slavery. After the 18611865 Civil War a system
of "hiring out prisoners" was introduced in order to continue the
slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out
their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land
in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were
almost never proven – and were then "hired out" for cotton picking,
working in mines and building railroads.
continues. The nation needs a way to fill the prisons which provide
a source of cheap labor. Surely the criminal justice system can
be of help here, and indeed they are. Gerry Spence, the famed criminal
lawyer, in his book From
Freedom To Slavery, tells us: "I found that the minions
of the law – the special agents of the FBI – to be men who proved
themselves not only fully capable, but also utterly willing to manufacture
evidence, to conceal crucial evidence and even to change the rules
that governed life and death if, in the prosecution of the accused,
it seemed expedient to do so."
the court judges are concerned with justice? Spence: "We are told
that our judges, charged with constitutional obligations, insure
equal justice for all. That, too, is a myth. The function of the
law is not to provide justice or to preserve freedom. The function
of the law is to keep those who hold power, in power."
Now the law
enforcement authorities don't do this all by themselves. For one
thing, they have onerous laws to help them. It is instructive to
look at the state of California in this regard.
Prison system is the third largest penal system in the country,
costing $5.7 billion dollars a year and housing over 170,000 inmates.
Since 1980 the number of California prisons has tripled and the
number of inmates has jumped significantly. In the past few years
controversies involving prison expansion, sky-rocketing costs, and
claims of mismanagement and inmate abuse have put the California
prison system under heightened public scrutiny.
prisons to be a growth industry in California? Did Californians
suddenly become lawless? We need look no further than the CCPOA,
the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. "The
Power this prison guards’ union wields inside our prisons, legislative
chambers and governor's office disturbs me. It should disturb every
citizen." ~ Judith Tannenbaum, formerly an English teacher
at San Quentin State Prison
The CCPOA is
the biggest contributor to political campaigns in California. The
CCPOA gives twice as much in political contributions as the California
Teachers Association, yet it is one-tenth its size. In 1998, the
CCPOA gave over $2 million to Governor Gray Davis, $763,000 to the
media, and over $100,000 to Proposition 184, the 3 Strikes law.
The 3 Strikes law mandated that convicted felons with one prior
felony got twice the normal sentence for their 2nd strike, and convicted
felons with two or more prior felonies would get at least 3 times
the normal sentence or 25 years (whichever is more) for their 3rd
strike. The CCCPOA has a vested interest in locking up more and
more Californians for longer sentences.
prison guards union has grown from a fledgling group of fewer than
2500 members in 1978 to a powerhouse of 31,000 members who contribute
$21.9 million dollars a year. The union employs a 91 person staff
including 20 full-time attorneys and uses the services of five lobbyists
and a team of public relations consultants, housed in the 62,000
square foot CCPOA headquarters. The state hiring office for prison
guards brags that the job has been called the greatest entry-level
job in California – and for good reason. "Along with the great salary,"
one of their ads notes, "our peace officers earn a retirement
package you just can’t find in private industry."
prisons are managed by an agency with 60,000 employees, including
the 30,000 in the prison guards' union. California's fourth prison
chief in a row, Jim Tilton, is leaving earlier than planned from
a meat-grinder of a job reputed to be among the toughest in state
government. So what makes the incoming Matt Cate think he can depart
on his own terms? "This mission is where my heart is," said Cate,
named by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the $225,000-a-year job running
the state's massively challenged prison agency. "Public safety has
been my career because I care about it."
is in a fiscal crisis, so Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing the
early release of some 22,000 inmates and eliminating about 4,500
prison guard positions to help shave $400 million from the budget
of the state corrections department. The guards' union is unhappy
with that scenario, and has allied with victims' associations to
fight it. Meanwhile overcrowding in state prisons results in violence.
A stabbing attack on four guards at one overcrowded state prison
and a racially sparked brawl at another mark the type of violence
that guards, inmates' attorneys and Schwarzenegger have been worried
about for years.
What to do
with all these prisoners? A US prison population of over 2 million
people – 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.
now numbering 135, began using prison labor in the 1970s. Microsoft,
McDonalds, TWA, IBM, Victoria’s Secret, AT&T and Toys R Us are
just some of the companies that use prisoners to cheaply produce
products or provide services. While the rate of pay may vary from
state to state, the constant is that the great majority of the money
that the companies pay goes to the state in which the prisoners
in California prisoners receive the "minimum wage" on
paper, but the state takes 80 percent for state restitution, anti-drug
campaigns, victim’s rights organizations and a prisoner "trust
The state of
Colorado employs prison labor for everything from agriculture, which
includes running a fishery, dairy farm and harvesting grapes, to
making furniture and firefighting. Colorado legislators recently
passed some of the most restrictive immigration laws in the country
following a massive mobilization for immigrant rights. The new laws
scared away workers, causing many crops to spoil in the fields for
lack of farm workers. The Colorado farm owners’ answer to this crisis
is to find labor even more exploitable than immigrant workers –
prison labor "chain gangs." And the need for more prisoners
is thereby increased even more.
industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the
United States and its investors are on Wall Street. This multimillion-dollar
industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and
mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns,
architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses
on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies,
armed security, and padded cells in designer colors.
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.
It might be
a good idea to get away from these public union-driven prisons.
How about private prisons? The number of prisoners in private prisons
grew more than 3,000 percent between 1987 and 2004, soaring from
3,122 to 98,700.
dominate the for-profit incarceration industry – Corrections Corporation
of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, formerly known as Wackenhut
Corrections. These two companies control 75 percent of the for-profit
incarceration market. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in
Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they
call "highly skilled positions."
with prison privatization is that Corporate-owned prisons need a
steady flow of inmates to maintain profits. To protect their profit
margins, prison companies exert political influence by contributing
thousands of dollars to state political campaigns. Lobbyists for
private prisons support tough-on-crime legislation that ensures
the continued need for prison space, including mandatory minimum
sentences, life terms for "three strikes," and sentencing
juveniles as adults.
where we started, with the private corporations doing what the California
union is doing – promoting the supply of more inmates in more prisons
with longer sentences.
So there we
have it. America, with one-quarter the population of China, has
500,000 more prisoners than China and many of them are hard at work.
US citizens are placed in long-term involuntary servitude with the
help of law enforcement and onerous laws pushed by a prison workers
union and private prison corporations, and it's all constitutional.
Bacon [send him mail]
is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley
Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler
said, "war is a racket."
© 2008 LewRockwell.com