The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, but we incarcerate 25% of all the prisoners in the world. We leave China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and all the other nations we like to look down our noses at far in the dust. We not only lockup more of our citizens than all totalitarian nations, we even lockup more people than China which has more than 4 times the number of Americans, and India which has almost 4 times the number of Americans, and Iran COMBINED. The US not only leads in the numbers of prisoners but far outpace China when measured per capita. We rank 1st among all nations with 715 prisoners per 100,000 people. China, ranks 71st with 119 prisoners per 100,000 people.
According to a report released by the Bureau of Prison Statistics, one out of every 32 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole at the end of 2005.
US leaders love to point out China as a violator of human rights and their penchant for slave and prison labor. While it’s principled to point out abuses by the Chinese, Americans should also recognize that slavery is not only legal in the US, it’s also practiced. The 13th Amendment authorizes it, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The key word here is “except” and being convicted of a crime in the United States is that exception.
In today’s America, drug laws have become the new Jim Crow laws, the prison/industrial complex has become the new plantation, and the warden has become the new overseer. America’s newest slaves aren’t picking cotton. They’re assembling computers, making women’s lingerie, booking airline flights over the phone, telemarketing for major corporations, and doing all kinds of tasks that free Americans used to be employed at doing. What appeared to be a normal plant closing by U.S. Technologies when it sold its electronics plant in Austin, was actually the company relocating its operations to a nearby Austin prison. One hundred and fifty “free” employees lost their jobs to the new slaves.
If you book a flight on TWA over the phone, a prisoner may be taking your order. If you buy yourself or your loved one something from Victoria Secret, it may have come from a prison in South Carolina. Corporations like Chevron, Boeing, IBM, Motorola, Honda, Toys R Us, Compaq, Dell, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Hewett-Packard, Microsoft, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and AT&T are a few of the ever-growing list of companies that are, or have at one time, used this kind of slave labor. Federal prisons operate under the trade name Unicor and use their prisoners to make everything from lawn furniture to congressional desks. Federal safety and health standards do not protect prison labor, nor do the National Labor Relations Board policies nor does the minimum wage apply. Corporations that use slave labor don’t pay overtime, sick days, pensions, and don’t have to deal with unions for this work. Prison/slaves are paid about 25 cents an hour.
Who are these new slaves?