Prison Labor

18 09 2009

In our modern society, exploitation of workers or ‘cheap labour’ is something protested and scrutinized by people around the world. However, can the opposition to this issue, most of us are inclined to feel, be changed simply by who is, in fact, being exploited? This question surfaced as I reviewed an article about the ‘privilege’ some prison inmates receive by being allowed to participate in job training or preparation for re-entry into the workforce while still serving their time.

The use of prison labor has evoked differing criticisms and praises in recent times. Another columnist, Roy Exum of the Chattanoogan, encourages and admires a system used in Georgia, which employs inmates as firefighters used in actual fires. He states, we can “further tap in to an unbelievable source of energy by using prison labor to make our world better.” The benefits to business in America clearly seem to be clouding the vision of people like Exum. Although they may be convicted felons, they are more than simply a ’source of energy’, they are people providing a service and doesn’t that justify a decent reward?

Many commercial companies are taking advantage of the Federal prison industries, such as Tran’s world airlines which has used prisoners to handle reservations, while AT&T has used prison labor for telemarketing. US trade union officials have repeatedly denounced China for its use of prison labor. By taking this strong stance against these Chinese policies it places the union officials in a hypocritical position as they have virtually been silent about the huge growth of prison labor in the United States.

There is currently over 80,000 inmates in the United States working in commercial activity, thousands earning as little as 21 cents an hour. This rate mirrors the factory workers wages in Bangladesh who are falling just above the common poverty line. This is a gross violation of these prisoners’ rights. The US government program, Federal Prison Industries (FPI) has enjoyed an increase of 14 percent in the last two years alone.

Not only are these prisoners being exploited for a profit, but their health and safety aren’t even being considered in the process. This was demonstrated when inmates working for a computer-recycling operation run by the FPI, since 1994, were being exposed to a toxic combination of hazardous chemicals through their jobs disassembling electronic waste.

Over the years there has been mounting examination of the FPI and their practices by the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.






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