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The comic about the U.S. military slave labor racket.
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Making Big Ones From Little Ones

blindman's buffWhen I was a kid reading about World War II it was continually impressed upon me how inhumane and desperate the practice of forced labor was as employed by the Axis powers, Germany and Japan. "What dirty bastards", I thought, "forcing prisoners to work day and night to build weapons for bread and water."

In a sad irony it's now the U.S. military that employs slave labor, in the guise of private prisons.

It began with the drug wars in the 1980s, a thinly-veiled racist plan to sweep as many African-Americans off the streets as possible. It worked very well. In 1980 there were 400,000 prisoners in U.S. jails but today that number exceeds 2.3 million people, almost 1 in every 100 Americans. The U.S. incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, and there are currently more African-American men on parole, on probation, or in jail than there were male slaves in 1850. (As an added extra bonus those convicted of felonies can no longer vote.)

As the jails started filling up new ones had to be built. Eventually someone had the bright idea of privatizing the system, because there was money to be made. (For instance, the CEO of Corrections Corporation of America took home $3.7 million in compensation in 2011.) And so the private prison industry grew at a rate of 1600% between 1990 and 2010.

So much money was made that the industry could hire its own lobbyists to bribe legislators to write laws that favor the prisons. In some areas of the country local governments are now contractually required to keep occupancy rates as high as 90%. That's a cheery thought.

The revenue stream, the one that pays the CEO so handsomely, comes from paying/forcing inmates to work for pennies to do jobs previously handled by small businesses. One of the deepest pools of money came from contractors, hired by the military to provide all manner of materiel. Prison labor now supplies 100 percent of the military's helmets, shirts, pants, tents, bags, canteens, bullet-proof vests. Compensation for the workers can be as low as 12 cents an hour.

Worse than that, some prisoners are made to clean and recycle military vehicles that are covered in poisonous and even radioactive materials, without the benefit of protective clothing. (A lawsuit is under way.)

Prison labor is also used by companies like Boeing, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Dell, Starbucks, Motorola, and Nintendo. (But not Apple.)

Many small businesses are failing because they cannot compete with slave labor. As one employer put it "The only way for workers to get their jobs back is to go to prison. There's got to be a better way."

Let's start by rethinking the wisdom of our drug laws, or the lack thereof, especially when it comes to violent vs. nonviolent crimes. Then we should agree to simply not slave labor. Let's use prison for what it was meant to do, which is to rehabilitate. It works in other countries. It can work here.


end rant

Here's an eye-opening infographic on the private prison industry. The full image is MUCH longer than this little snippet so click the image to see the whole thing.
private prisons

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