Monday, January 30, 2012

Making a reservation to a hotel or airlines? Private corporations are using prison slave labor to answer phones.

Private corporations are using slave labor to answer phones in what they euphemistically call "vocational training."

Today, in a twisted marriage between Congress, the American prison system and large private corporations seeking to reduce costs and increase profits, slave labor has become a booming business in the United States. Generating over $2.4 billion dollars a year in revenue, and encompassing some 600,000 state, federal and local inmates, there seems to be no end in sight to this flourishing enterprise some have called the Prison Industrial Complex. Men who are in prison for non-violent offenses, that have gotten caught up in the never ending ‘War on Drugs’, mandatory minimum sentencing statues, “three strikes” laws and increasingly ending up in prison for unpaid debts, many times child support payments they are unable to make due to lack of employment, are by far and away the almost exclusive fodder for this new type of slavery. But how is this possible?

While Federal regulations stipulates that prisons and companies must “pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for similar work in the same locality’s private sector,” the statue also allows for ‘allowable wage deductions’ of up to 80% of the prisoner’s wages. These deductions are for room and board, child support, victim programs and taxes. Through other loopholes in the PIE act, public prisons and “for profit” private prisons have found ways to deduct or withhold almost all of the remaining inmate’s wages. Today, after these ‘allowable wage deductions’, inmate wages rage from .17 cents an hour on the low end, to perhaps $3-4 dollars a day on the high end.

Since room and board is usually the biggest chunk of deductions from the inmates paycheck, most of these cost savings are often passed back to the private corporations, as an incentive to bring in more projects. Private corporations are standing in line to take advantage of cheap prison labor. The bottom line is that this slave labor can make a prison’s cash flow soar, and enable corporations to take advantage of third world wages right here in the United States, without the hassle or political fallout of overseas sweat shops or the expense of transporting goods from other countries.

By law, except in Federal prisons and the State of California, the inmates are not forced to work, and can remain in their cells during the work day. The catch is, if prisoners refuse to work, the prison can take away their canteen and telephone privileges, move the inmates into solitary confinement or disciplinary housing and most importantly halt the inmate’s ‘good time credit’, that can reduce their prison sentence length by up to 40%. The choice to work for the inmates is not a difficult one given the tactics used by the different prisons, which are tantamount to profiteering through coercion and extortion; an illegal act outside prison walls, but completely legal inside.

Proponents of these prison work programs have argued that these “jobs” give inmates life work skills for after their release, a lower case of recidivism, less instances of violence inside the facilities and a method by which convicts can help pay for the cost of their own imprisonment. The Department of Justice has shown in most studies that recidivism in not effected by whether the prisoner was forced to work, and also showed an increase in the number of violent incidents and escapes, especially in “for profit” prison corporation facilities.

The jobs that these inmates do, which the prison systems call “vocational training” are usually nothing more than repetitious activities needed for mass production, call center operators or farming work, such as planting or harvesting crops. In fact, one of the fastest growing segments of the prison slave labor are call centers for companies that need reservation operators for hotels, airlines and rental car companies.

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