Prison Industry: Big Business in America


The prison industrial complex is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, generating billions of dollars annually for businesses and private prison contractors.

While countries like Netherland and Sweden have had to close some of their prisons due to lack of people to put in them, on the other hand, American prisons are overflowing with inmates. Why is this so? It is a known fact that prisoners provide a source of cheap labor for many big businesses in the U.S. In an article published by Global Research, an independent research and media organization, many companies in America benefit from the prison labor by paying a pittance to inmates and raking in higher profits. Inmates in privately-run prison receive as little as 17 cents per hour or $20 per month for a maximum of six hours per day.

Prison labor has been on the increase over the years with its scope spanning through various sectors of the economy. Companies such McDonalds, McDowell, Walmart, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, giant military corporations, among others, have benefited directly or indirectly from cheap labor provided by inmates.

Exploitation of prisoners for cheap labor in the U.S. has become slavery in disguise, with private contractors taking advantage of the loopholes in the Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.

Prisoners are engaged in farm work and, in some cases, have been used to perform hazardous assignments. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana (also referred to as the BP oil spill) in 2010, BP had to tap into the prison workforce to take advantage of the cheap labor causing outrage by many of the coastal residents who had just seen their livelihoods disappear and desperate for work were left out.

There is nothing so wrong in engaging prisoners in some form of labor, but it is reprehensible when they are being exploited for businesses’ bottom line. Worse, many corporate stockholders and their cronies stand in the way of meaningful reforms by promoting tough-on-crime legislations with the resultant increase in incarceration rates.

Prison jobs have become a source of employment for many rural communities in America. “Across the country, distressed rural communities have become as dependent on the local prison for jobs as an earlier generation might have depended on the local factory or mill,” according to a RollingStone report.

There are about 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds The two largest private prison corporation in America are the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO group, both are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. “Combined both companies generated over $2.53 billion in revenue in 2012.” The annual compensation for each of the CEO’s of these companies was well over $3 million in 2014 according to report by Grassroots Leadership

The business model of these for-profit private prisons depends largely on the numbers of inmates locked up, which is directly proportional to how much profit they make. This provides the motivation for them to spend heavily on lobbying Congress and the Executive through direct campaign contributions for longer sentences and policies that continue to fuel mass incarceration.

GEO and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts, a Washington Post report found. These lobbying efforts have been geared towards increasing the nation’s prison population, advocating strict immigration laws, hindering meaningful prison reforms and promoting the use of private prisons. In fact, Grassroots Leadership reported that: “Contrary to private prison corporation claims that they do not lobby on issues related to immigration policy, between 2008 and 2014, CCA spent $10,560,000 in quarters where they lobbied on issues related to immigrant detention and immigration reform.”

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