Privatized Prison and Prison Labor

Freshman (College 1st year) ・English ・APA ・14 Sources

In today's culture, prison labor has become a multibillion-dollar industry, but it also raises ethical questions, including those related to modern-day slavery. There is an unknown return rate for inmates who are subjected to "forced" labor. Prison labor is constitutionally mandated in America, so most correctional institutions must provide some kind of labor for the prisoners. Many who participate in serious career-related practices are often given meager remuneration that will not suffice after they are released from jail. Such circumstances remain amid the fact that some inmates make substantial contributions to the economies of the facilities from which they benefit. In this light, it critical to examine the role of the private organization as they benefit from the prison labor. The privatized prison industry makes billions of dollars each year yet very little compensation is awarded to those who engage in the prison labor thereby creating a humanitarian crisis, hence, necessitating this study as part of examining the need for proper treatment of prisoners working for a private corporation or ending the labor.

Critics of prison labor have continued to point out the issue regarding the private prisons pointing out the moral hazards created by profiting from punishment. Human rights organizations and other social-political ones have also condemned the prison labor systems because of the cruel exploitation of the prisoners who are mainly from the African Americans and Hispanic communities. It is believed that the private corporations have found a pot of gold in the labor form. The employer does not worry about absenteeism or lateness of the employees since the prison facility takes care of the situation. It forms what Cederstrom & Fleming’s (2012) calls “dead man working” in that prisoners are like a robot or dead people who cannot demand any rights. They will not question the process and they will merely offer surplus labor (Cederstrom & Fleming, 2012).

According to Ness (2016), the global working class opts to outsource cheap labor from other countries. The US has not been left behind as it has the largest incarcerated population in the world with the majority of the imprisoned population being people of color particularly the African Americans and the Hispanic community. Despite the end of slavery in 1865, the 13th Amendment created a loophole that allows slavery through “punishment of crimes.” As a result, the above mentioned communities are forced to perform mandatory unpaid hard labor in the correctional facilities. Accordingly, the perception created by this form of compulsory labor is that of neo-slavery which is unacceptable. Moreover, the labor market has for long discriminated against the blacks in America but the same community is exploited when in prison. The same happens to other communities such as the Aboriginals and Hispanics who are many ways discriminated in the labor market outside the prison system. In this light, it can be viewed like the mainstream society is abusing the minority through the help of the government and the correctional facilities to exploit the minority communities and “enslave them” which is against the principle of humans rights.

The poor in the community is prone to crimes as they try to make ends meet. Brynjofsson & McAdee (2014), believes that mass incarceration is a system of social control aimed at population control as noted in the case of Black and Aboriginal populations that are excluded from mainstream employment. Such denials force members of these communities to commit crimes as they try to make meet ends. Evidently, prisons are meant for the poor, minorities, and the disenfranchised whom use any means even crime to make life bearable for them and their families. As a result, the jails are filled such groups who are then treated like slaves when they are behind bars. In fact, their rights are promoted through voting or having a politically elected leader listen or advocate for them or their families. They are subjected to cruel treatment and their capacity to join the mainstream society when they are leased is diminished (Brynjofsson & McAdee, 2014).

It is clear that, the prison system fails because instead of correcting the offenders and treating them like humans it uses its powers to force them into modern day slavery. They exploit the least fortunate in the society who find themselves in the confinements of these correctional facilities turned into institutions of slavery. In contrast, the wealthy who can buy justice never face such inhuman conditions. In fact, they are given simple punishments if it gets to be punished such as fines which in most cases they can pay and move on with their lives. This implies that the government has failed to solve the challenges of economic inequalities, equal opportunities, human rights, or even streamline the minimum wage rates to ensure that all people in the society have a better life (Esposito & Wood 1982).

Privatization of prisons through sourcing for cheap labor from prison system has benefited corporates engaging in such businesses. The crime is politicized to benefit the politicians and the big business in prison labor system. Studies show that immigrants are the biggest money spinners for the private-operators. To maximize profits and minimize expenditures the make use of less skilled young workers who are paid lower wages. This exploitation of human capital in the prison system employed by the private sector gives them unfair competitive advantages when compared to government controlled labor in correctional facilities. LeBaron (2012), also notes that the high level of discipline in the prison environment increases the productivity levels of the private firms. However, in the end enslavement of the inmates is enhanced indirectly through forcing them to labor without any form of compensation.

Apart from benefiting from the cheap labor provided by the prisoners, private firms’ saves money through buildings, storage, and labor supervision costs as the states provide them for the laborers (LeBaron, 2012). The taxpayers’ funds are used to subsidize and support the upkeep of the prisoners. The private institutions do not have to incur many costs as the government provides essential support to the correctional facilities. In the end, the prisoners do not benefit from their input for the organization while the firms and the government are the beneficiaries of the unpaid labor. This creates a form of modern day slavery where the workers are exploited based on the crimes that they committed and ended up in jail.

his 2007 essay, Ramm’s “Prison labor, Slavery & Capitalism in Historical Perspective,” Hartnett cites a case of an inmate who refused to participate in prison labor equating it to slavery, hence, refuses to be treated like a lave. He raises concerns regarding the contemporary American prison labor system as a form of exploitation as it happened during the slave days. Graeber’s (2013) papers on “bullshit jobs” better describe the situation through showing that some forms of employment should not be there in the first place. Despite the many negative implications, at least 37 states have legalized prison labor contracting by the private companies that have their operations located within the prison systems. In those confinements of prisons having fewer guards supervising the work reduces the operation costs and maximizes the profits for the organizations. The population of the guards is further unevenly distributed with the issue of gender coming up. Hochschild (2012), notes that female prison officers are used as objects of distributing sex hence creating established motives. Additionally, unlike other forms of employment where the division of labor requires all members to perform their portion of work, prisons do not require every inmate to perform for his consumption. This supports the work of prison authority whereby they try to minimize inmates’ movements to better control their activities (Braverman, 1998). Moreover, the lack of gender equity stimulates a less rehabilitative work, hence, prisoners are treated inhumanly.

Frederick Winslow Tylor (1911), in his principles of scientific management notes that the principle object of management to get maximum value for the employer, and the same value for the employee. In this light, success is used in its broad view to underscore development of different branches of the organizations to their highest levels of excellence to ensure that prosperity is achieved in a permanent status. In this perception it would appear that prosperity of the employer and that of the employee couples to offer the leading objects of management. Such perfect harmony is practically not achievable since the two seems to conflict. That is why the scientific management has a firm conviction that the interest of the two groups are the same, hence, it is not possible to give what the employer wants and the employee wants. The interests of an employee are to get high wages and probably work for fewer hours, while that of an employer is to get maximum work input and pay less to maximize the profits hence making the two need incompatible. This theory better explains why the private firms employ the exploitative tactic of using a prisoner as their source of labor. Additionally, McAfee’s & Brynjolfsson (2014), support such concept when they argue that surplus population provide surplus labor which is beneficial to capitalists. In essence, the exploitation and abuse of hierarchies is an essential component of control which is achieved through privatization of labor in prisons.

Karl Marx’s (1992), in his theory of alienation and estranged labor he claims that capitalism is alienating. In simpler view of the tenet, something becomes alienated once what is or should be familiar and connected becomes unfamiliar or disconnected. Thus, species-being is the essence of human beings, and should be something that is familiar. When something happens and people become unfamiliar with what was normally expected then they become disconnected from their nature. In line with Karl Marx theory, workers are alienated from human beings as the capitalist's economies creates competition among the workers themselves as they seek jobs and pay rises. Just like the way competition in business results in decease of the prices of the commodities, the competition among the workers creates the downfall of wages. This theory affirms why downgrading of workers is typical in some companies. Furthermore, it paints a clear image regarding the continued use of prisoners as a cheap means of labor as the organizations maximize their profits. Through extensive separation extraction of surplus value while exploiting the productive labor power of those who have been disposed of by the capital.


Despite the fact that prison labor gives prisoners a chance to learn new skills and to have better constructive lives while in prison, engaging them in private and unpaid forms of labor is enslaving them. A correctional facilitate should not be used to encourage modern day slavery. The state should find a way of ensuring that those who engage in prison labor are compensated and that they are not treated inhumanly. It is also critical to address the issues surrounding prison labor and gender equity as part of improving on transparency and openness in the organization. The government should also not allow the private institution to benefit from the expenses of lives of other people as it creates a negative image both for the government and the private institutions.


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