By Steve Nolan
May 17, 2012

“Prison Industrial Complex” is a term that refers to private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies. What is interesting about this term and the concept of “prison labor” is how it’s rise parallels the rapid expansion of the US inmate population.

The Prison Industrial Complex is big growth industry. While other sectors of our economy continue to struggle in this recession, the private prison industry is booming!

Is there a connection between this booming business and the record rise in incarceration in this country? Let’s take a deeper look…

Did you know that for every 100,000 Americans, 743 of them reside behind bars? That is nearly 1 out 100 Americans!

Today, the United States has the highest prison population in the world with more than 2 million people either incarcerated in prison or in jail awaiting trail.

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, surpassing China, North Korea and Russia.

A study conducted by the Bureau of Justice in 2005 showed that a record 33-year continuous rise in the number of inmates in the United States despite falling crime rates.

To put this concept into perspective, consider the following:

The major myth associated with our Prison Industrial Complex is that the rise in incarceration rates reflects a commensurate rise in crime. The fact is that crime rates have fallen. One of the driving forces behind the sudden rise in prison populations is a result of the “three strikes laws.”

It is estimated over 500,000 Americans are in prison for drug-related, non-violent crimes.  Another driver is the continued privatization of our prison system where these private companies are actually incented to keep their jails full.

Case in point, CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for “good behavior,”but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA.

According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost “good behavior time” at a rate eight times higher than those in state-run prisons.

Another big driving force behind our massive prison system is cheap labor.

37% states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations. The list of these corporations include: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.

In private-run prisons, the working inmates receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison “employer” is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.”

Exploitation of cheap labor by Fortune 500 companies has competition from the Military Industrial Complex. Did you know that prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter?

And that prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm anti-aircraft guns to 300-mm battleship guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for BAE Systems’ Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder? Prisoners are also “hired” to recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.

Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.

The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit.

For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.

I believe what former Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix said when he recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs, we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”

In other words…he is basically offering slave labor!  While our so-called elected officials talk about the massive slave labor camps in North Korea, I think one only has to look into the mirror and let the facts speak for themselves.

Our prison industrial complex is getting out hand, much like our military industrial complex. We need to stand up now and do something about it, before it gets too powerful, too influential, and too out of control.

Until next time, keep your powder dry and your faith strong!

How we compare to the rest of the World.

Country Prison population Population per 100,000 Jail occupancy level % Un-sentenced prisoners % Women prisoners %
US 2,193,798 737 107.6 21.2 8.9
CHINA 1,548,498 118 N/A N/A 4.6
RUSSIA 874,161 615 79.5 16.9 6.8
BRAZIL 371,482 193 150.9 33.1 5.4
INDIA 332,112 30 139 70.1 3.7
MEXICO 214,450 196 133.9 43.2 5
UKRAINE 162,602 350 101.3 19.5 6.1
SOUTH AFRICA 158,501 334 138.6 27.5 2.1
POLAND 89,546 235 124.4 16.8 3
ENGLAND/WALES 80,002 148 112.7 16.4 5.5
JAPAN 79,052 62 105.9 14.7 5.9
KENYA 47,036 130 284.3 45.6 42
TURKEY 65,458 91 77.4 47.7 3.3
NIGERIA 40,444 30 101.5 64.3 1.9
AUSTRALIA 25,790 125 105.9 21.6 7.1
SCOTLAND 6,872 134 107.5 21 4.4
N IRELAND 1,375 79 91.5 37.4 2.2

SOURCE: International Centre for Prison Studies

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Comment by Less Prone on October 23, 2012 at 1:10pm

J. Patriot, It's not by accident that all countries add laws upon laws making life increasingly difficult for the honest hard working people. The rulers of this world are centralizing everything in lesser and lesser hands leading to the world central government. When decision making power escapes longer and longer from the people who are affected by the decisions the system get more and more corrupt and inefficient. They'd like to see us all prisoners, working for our daily meal. It's a prison planet, indeed.

Comment by J. Patriot on October 23, 2012 at 5:37am

The U.S.Legislature along with State Legislatures passes so many laws before long it's going to be illegal to breathe air! I was in Law Enforcement for several years, and I can tell you it was hard to keep up with all of the laws the Texas Legislature passed along with all the Federal laws! If you really wanted to lock somebody up all you have to do is follow them around for a day! We truly are a Police State, and no longer have any rights! Sometimes I believe that's what they want to create a second class citizen with no rights! I use to hear this all the time from people I was arresting " Once in the system! Always in the system!” They call it rehabilitation, but they create is a person who cannot vote are hold a job because not many businesses hire people with a felony! This person also cannot own a firearm, and has no Second Amendment Right! This person does not have to commit a crime with a firearm to get it taken away from them. Most people in jail or prison have committed nonviolent crimes such as drug use. I have also had many people sitting in the back of my car tell me how can I start new if I can't even get a job to be able to survive. Good question, but nobody wants to address how we can make changes to a Criminal Justice system that doesn't work!

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