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Occupy the Prisons
October 19, 2012 5:16 AM   Subscribe

The Bottom One Percent "Federal Prison Industries (FPI), which employs inmates in federal prisons, pays them between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour, with the average federal prisoner making $0.92 per hour. [F]rom this gross pay, the government deducts funds for restitution, to offset the high cost of incarceration, and for other purposes, leaving the average federal-prison employee with a measly $0.18 per hour. [Although state prison inmates'] wages were higher, ranging from $0.23 per hour to $7.00 per hour, their “take-home pay” was only about 20 percent of their wages. It’s safe to say that people making 72 cents an hour who have no other income are in the bottom 1 percent of the U.S. income distribution."
posted by anotherpanacea (50 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sure some would argue that they are also earning $50,000 a year in free incarceration -- food, bunk, medical care, and secure living arrangements -- putting them well up the income curve.

We hear the Occupy Wall Street people—and President Obama—advocate taxing the top 1 percent more. I've got a better idea: Let's tax the top 1 percent less and let a few hundred thousand of the bottom one percent out of prison—and out of poverty.

Hmmm. I'd prefer to tax the rich more, since our historically low tax rates don't seem to be working out all that well, along with working towards lowering our incarceration rate, which is ridiculously high. He's setting up a tradeoff that doesn't make sense to me.
posted by Forktine at 5:26 AM on October 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


The Colbert Report recently had a The Word on this.
posted by knile at 5:26 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Fitts on the Prison system.

From the link:
In this vision, America's aristocracy makes money and finances the building of a global empire one neighborhood at a time by ensnaring our youth in a pincer movement of drugs and prisons. Middle class support for these policies is created through a steady and growing stream of government funding and contracts for War on Drugs activities at federal, state and local levels.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:37 AM on October 19, 2012


I'm sure some would argue that they are also earning $50,000 a year in free incarceration -- food, bunk, medical care, and secure living arrangements

If you think you've accurately described the inside of the US prison system with this pithy line of bullshit, you are out of your god damn mind.
posted by absalom at 5:40 AM on October 19, 2012 [27 favorites]


Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush have admitted using illegal drugs. Would society have been better off if they had spent time in prison?

1. I wasn't aware that GWB had ever admitted using illegal drugs, and 2. Yes, we ABSOLUTELY would be better off as a society if he spent time in prison.
posted by item at 5:41 AM on October 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I have a solution to the upper/lower 1% issue:

Let's put the real criminals in jail, and have the police stop bothering the poor people who were arrested for DWB or minor drug charges. Most of the corporate convicts would then flip from one side to the other thus balancing out the averages.

Plus, we could actually save some money by having less cops since they would only need to patrol a small portion of NYC and uptown Charlotte.

This is a win/win/win scenario, and anybody that disagrees with me hates America.

/hopeless rant
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:42 AM on October 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you think you've accurately described the inside of the US prison system with this pithy line of bullshit, you are out of your god damn mind.

If you think I was being serious, I have a privatized prison system I could sell you.
posted by Forktine at 5:49 AM on October 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


~I'm sure some would argue that they are also earning $50,000 a year in free incarceration -- food, bunk, medical care, and secure living arrangements
~If you think you've accurately described the inside of the US prison system with this pithy line of bullshit, you are out of your god damn mind.


If you think there isn't a not-insignificant portion of Americans, including elected representatives, who actually think this, well, you are out of...etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:50 AM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


He's setting up a tradeoff that doesn't make sense to me.

That's just him using a hook to get the issue on the table with libertarians. We could also have lower taxes on the wealthy if we stopped sending troops overseas to kill brown people. If the immorality of war doesn't excite the electorate, maybe they'll be selfish enough to want lower taxes.

It's notable that California prison guards make an average of $67,080 and California K-12 teachers make an average of $67,871. Teachers are supposedly a budget problem, but prisons go unmentioned. In Wisconsin, Walker went after the teachers' unions but left corrections and police unions alone. It's a trend.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:57 AM on October 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


1. I wasn't aware that GWB had ever admitted using illegal drugs

He spent 10+ years refusing to answer the question. There's just no way he didn't--any politician who can say no without lying is going to answer to get the question to go awway. There's supposedly an arrest for cocaine possession in 1972 that his father buried. That they did deny outright. Make of that what you will.
posted by hoyland at 6:03 AM on October 19, 2012


But who wasn't arrested for cocaine possession in the 70's?
posted by gagglezoomer at 6:05 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure some would argue that they are also earning $50,000 a year in free incarceration -- food, bunk, medical care, and secure living arrangements -- putting them well up the income curve.

Interesting $50,000 is way more than a lot of places actually spend on prisoners. At some point recently Louisiana was spending something like $15,000/year/prisoner.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:06 AM on October 19, 2012


How US prison labor pads corporate profits at taxpayers' expense
posted by Burhanistan at 6:09 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you think there isn't a not-insignificant portion of Americans, including elected representatives, who actually think this, well, you are out of...etc.

People who consider themselves progressives need to stop giving a fuck "what Americans think" and start talking about right and wrong
posted by crayz at 6:15 AM on October 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


From Burhanistan's link:

I asked an NCIA spokesperson, Wil Helsop, how Martori Farms and other private companies can get away with what could reasonably be described as forced labor. He explained that the PIE program classifies certain work functions as a "service" rather than an actual "job", and therefore is not subject to the criteria. Conveniently, then, the backbreaking work of picking crops in the blistering sun counts as a "service", so prisoners can be paid even less than the immigrants who have traditionally performed this work.

Hey, why didn't the Confederacy think of this?! "It ain't slavery, it is service."

However, the Department of Useful Euphemisms somehow forgot to notice that "service" and "serfdom" actually have the same etymological root.
posted by Skeptic at 6:19 AM on October 19, 2012


It's notable that California prison guards make an average of $67,080 and California K-12 teachers make an average of $67,871. Teachers are supposedly a budget problem, but prisons go unmentioned. In Wisconsin, Walker went after the teachers' unions but left corrections and police unions alone. It's a trend.

In California, about half of the budget is spent on public education, which makes it an easy target. I couldn't find how much of the budget is spent on prisons, but it would have to be much less, obviously.

It's worth noting that prison guards can work overtime, so many of them make far more than the average teacher.
posted by Huck500 at 6:19 AM on October 19, 2012


I have worked in state institutions for the mentally handicapped in the past, and they employ a similar system, where the state gets contracts to, say, assemble packaging and so on, and has the residents do it in "workshop," paying them half a cent for each package assembled. Or something like that. Usually, what they get paid is arbitrarily decided by their caretakers, but it shakes out to about $5.00 a week.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 6:22 AM on October 19, 2012


It's stating the obvious, but regardless of whether companies would pay more, there is no way prison authorities would want more excess cash flowing round prisons. It is absolutely part of their interest to ensure prisoners are occupied, tired and poor.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:35 AM on October 19, 2012


Worth pointing out that the US Constitution doesn't ban slavery outright - it allows it as punishment for a crime.

Great.
posted by entropone at 6:40 AM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm sure some would argue that they are also earning $50,000 a year in free incarceration -- food, bunk, medical care, and secure living arrangements -- putting them well up the income curve.
...
Hmmm. I'd prefer to tax the rich more, since our historically low tax rates don't seem to be working out all that well, along with working towards lowering our incarceration rate, which is ridiculously high. He's setting up a tradeoff that doesn't make sense to me.
Factor in lost wages that prisoners could be earning, which also includes lost income taxes that could be collected by the government, and the cost is much greater.
posted by deathpanels at 6:52 AM on October 19, 2012


You don't want a lot of possessions to get in the way of your contemplation of your particular misdeed.
posted by caddis at 6:55 AM on October 19, 2012


This piece is incredibly sloppy. The author spends a lot of time talking about "victimless" crimes, but I'm not all that sure that they count as "victimless." The main problem: he hasn't shown his work with the data he's using.

First, just because someone is in prison for drug possession doesn't mean that they aren't also in prison for assault or theft, and it's not at all clear that the 560,000 people he identifies as being in prison for non-violent drug offenses aren't also in prison for some other kind of offense. It could be true, but he hasn't given us the data to know, and I can't be arsed to do his homework for him.

Second, prostitution isn't necessarily a victimless crime either, as many of the people in prison for prostitution may actually be pimps and traffickers, not sex workers. Again, he doesn't have the numbers to show this one way or the other.

But that isn't the only problem. The entire category of "victimless" crimes is suspect. For example, I refuse to consider selling drugs to be a victimless crime.* Yes, the people who buy drugs do actually buy them, but calling that "voluntary" is a joke. Drug dealers are enablers and entrappers, and their customers are victims. Same goes for those who manufacture drugs, especially things like meth, which is incredibly dangerous and toxic to produce. A highway near my apartment was shut down for an entire day when a truck containing materials from a meth clean up site was in an accident, because they had to call in the hazmat team to deal with all the chemicals. I'm willing to count simple possession as "victimless," but not cultivation, manufacture, or distribution.

Further, there are plenty of technically "victimless" crimes that probably do want to punish pretty seriously. Take DUI for example. If the cops pull you over, and you fail a sobriety test, I want you to go to freaking jail. I don't care whether or not you hurt someone. That's recklessness I'm willing to consider criminal independent of whether or not there are any victims.

So if this guy wants to demonstrate that we can save a lot of money by correcting the "injustice" of incarcerating people for "victimless" crimes, he's got a lot more work to do than he's done here.

*I'm willing to make a categorical exception for pot. Pot users aren't addicts the way meth, coke, or heroin users are, and the health effects, while disputed, are demonstrably not in the same category as any of the "harder" drugs. So selling pot isn't exploitative the way selling meth is. But again, the author doesn't tease out the number of people in prison only for pot-related offenses, i.e., those not involved in harder stuff or non-drug related offenses.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on October 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's worth noting that prison guards can work overtime, so many of them make far more than the average teacher.

Well, to be clear, teachers can and do work overtime too; we just don't get paid for it. That was one of the more egregious lies I noticed in the movie "Won't Back Down."
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:08 AM on October 19, 2012


First, just because someone is in prison for drug possession doesn't mean that they aren't also in prison for assault or theft, and it's not at all clear that the 560,000 people he identifies as being in prison for non-violent drug offenses aren't also in prison for some other kind of offense.

This is a good point. I have no doubt that a large number of people are in jail purely for drug possession, but a lot of times drug possession charges accompany other charges,* because people are busted for theft or assault or whatever and have drugs on them. That can lead to a situation where someone pleads to possession, but what they were arrested for also included a non-drug crime.

*I used to practice criminal law and I regularly wanted to give my clients a lecture about leaving their pot at home if they were planning to go shoplifting.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:19 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


valkyryn, before you ding someone else for not showing their work, you might want to attend to your own a bit better. There are plenty of "enablers and entrappers" that deal in substances and other addicting vices (booze, gambling, sex work) that are perfectly legal, although they usually have some sort of regulation in place (as much for making sure that the state and local governments get their cut of revenue as any consideration for public safety and order) and often with incredibly arbitrary limits on what's legal; I've read of places where strippers can get around the requirement to keep their nipples covered, for example, by using a couple of tiny bits of transparent surgical tape. If one of those bits falls off (and the reporting party is close enough to see it, of course), boom, sex crime. That's stupid. Ditto for insisting that any DUI is by its nature "reckless" regardless of circumstances; people have been arrested for DUIs because they were sleeping off a night of drinking in their car with their car keys in their pocket.

Saying that something isn't "necessarily" a victimless crime also sidesteps the notion that part of the job of the court is, or should be, to determine whether there are aggravating or mitigating circumstances. But then, of course, you have mandatory sentencing guidelines.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:30 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I couldn't find how much of the budget is spent on prisons, but it would have to be much less, obviously.

California now spends more on prisons than on it's once mighty postsecondary education system.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:45 AM on October 19, 2012


The irony is if you said, "Let's spend $15,000+ a year each to provide poor black men with food, shelter, and some semblance of security, and maybe even give them a job," you'd lose the election so fast your percentage of the vote would be negative.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Police and prison officers vote Republican. Teachers and other government workers may not. One of these groups is an easier target for cuts than the other.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:50 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that prison guards can work overtime, so many of them make far more than the average teacher.

Given the way medians work, I'd guess it's about half. :-)

It could be true, but he hasn't given us the data to know, and I can't be arsed to do his homework for him.

Mark Kleiman is a good progressive who shares many of these views, and he's done the homework. It looks like only about 1/4 of the people in jail are there for truly non-violent drug crimes (posession, simple trafficking). 60% are nonviolent crimes, generally.

But by making the drug trade criminal, we actually encourage violence, so there's another group of violent criminals who might not have engaged in violence if they worked for a legal corporation that distributed marijuana or cocaine.

Just look at Mexico.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:51 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drug dealers are enablers and entrappers, and their customers are victims. Same goes for those who manufacture drugs, especially things like meth, which is incredibly dangerous and toxic to produce.

"Victimless" crime or not, it is absolutely the criminalization of these activities that create enabling drug dealers and toxic meth labs and the violence of the trade. The addictive drugs that are used illegally can be (and for the most part are by way of prescription meds) manufactured in regulated industries and sold by normal retail establishments. That solves, I would guess, almost 100% of the violence around the drug trade. It can also help remove some of the stigma around addiction, which can make it easier to identify people with dangerous problems and get them help without them being afraid of having to get clean by way of detoxing in a jail cell.
posted by ndfine at 8:26 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm OK with working prisoners hard. If they hurt society, they ought to pay it back.

However - with that said, I'd like to point out that the privatized prison system is a threat to all of us. By allowing corporations to reap massive profits from prisoners, we are effectively creating a "triangular trade" slave system as follows.

1) Use of prisoners as slave labor allows corporations to make massive profits.
2) Corporations pour some of these profits into lobbyists to influence politicians.
3) Politicians expand the prison system.

It's bad enough that we have this system established, but what happens when the corporations decide that they can make even more profits by vastly increasing the slave pool? I mean, many police stations already have unofficial "quota systems" for the number of citations they write. Is it really such a stretch to suggest that an unofficial quota system might be put into place to ensure certain metrics for prosecutable offenses?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:55 AM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


In Wisconsin, Walker went after the teachers' unions but left corrections and police unions alone.

Incorrect. It was fire and police (employees of local governments, not the state, although state troopers were included) who were exempted, but state corrections officers -- which includes not just prison guards, but all state probation officers -- were DEFINITELY not. As with all other public workers, they lost collective bargaining rights, and had their salaries cut. In fact, the prospect of a prison guard strike was cited by Walker as justification for notifying the National Guard.

This is not part of the thesis here.
posted by dhartung at 9:24 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Multiple issues: I think prisons should teach certain things in much the way the military does: Discipline & Structure, Natural & Logical Consequences, and Basic education(the US military no longer accepts recruits w/out a HS diploma. not sure about GED; prisoners should have the opportunity/ requirement to work on a GED, at the very least. The military does lots of training.). Those basics alone would assist any prisoner with life after prison. Prisoners should have a thorough medical exam, and medical includes mental health. ADHD might not need to be treated in prison, but coping skills can be. Bi-polar, schizophrenia, cognitive impairment, brain damage, genetic disorders, and more should be diagnosed. If someone has XYY chromosomes, and may be more violence-prone, it makes a lot of sense to teach that person skills to reduce their violent actions. Note, I'm not saying that they shouldn't be held accountable for their actions. Also, genetic testing is a wicked slippery slope.

I'm okay with requiring prisoners to work at a productive job, and to require prisoners to work at a job that contributes to the prison. So, a prisoner might work 40 hours making license plates, or assembling widgets. And the prisoner might also work 5 hours a week on meals, laundry, lawns, whatever. Ask an unskilled/minimum wage worker what she has left after housing, food, health care, clothing, taxes, the gym, laundry, etc., and she may very well tell you that having 6.80 (.18 * 40) left over for a pack of smokes would be awesome. And she (or he) makes their own meals, does their own laundry, etc.

I'd offer prisoners genuinely productive work, and the training to do it. In reality, many skilled workers don't get pay for their skills, because the job market is imprecise. But if a prisoner learns to repair cars, the pay should reflect it. A prisoner with a GED should get better pay as an incentive. Some people in prison are pretty damaged; it's hard for them to learn, but most people will respond to smart incentives. Rewards are generally more effective than punishments, especially abusive punishments.

Prisoners with mental illnesses should get care for their illness, and disabilities should get adaptation. For crying out loud, this wealthy nation should be able to care for damaged people more effectively. Mentally ill people are costing us a lot of money in prison, on the streets, in families, etc., to say nothing of the lack of compassion for people who suffer a great deal.

I'm Quaker by association (they expect you to be a believer if you want to actually join), and I'm not pro-military. But I've seen some great examples of Angry Young Men who went into the military and were able to bloom in the environment of Discipline, Structure, Training, Consequences, and Mission. It's quite likely to be more cost-effective than the current prison approach which seems to be: You're Bad; Go Away.
posted by theora55 at 9:34 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stephen Fry and company address this in this QI clip from 2010. Rather embarrassing (and frustratingly typical) to find out that this is more commonly known about and discussed elsewhere.

I think this is what happens when you convince people it's right that they should thank God, their parents and their agent for their successes but that the failures that led them to break the law are all on their own head. The SEP Field is getting strong in this part of the Western Spiral Arm.
posted by Appropriate Username at 9:39 AM on October 19, 2012


Just to maybe boil it down: it's quite alright to put prisoners to work, and most of them do so willingly to get out of their cells and heads and into practical activities. It's even better that their labors should serve the common good (license plates, stitching government worker clothing/uniforms, etc). The problems arise when the prison system is given incentives to maintain incarceration rates, and then their labor is used to offset corporate labor spending. I'm not sure why some are having difficulty grasping this.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:46 AM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Incorrect. It was fire and police (employees of local governments, not the state, although state troopers were included) who were exempted, but state corrections officers -- which includes not just prison guards, but all state probation officers -- were DEFINITELY not.

Thanks for the correction.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:03 AM on October 19, 2012


The problems arise when the prison system is given incentives to maintain incarceration rates, and then their labor is used to offset corporate labor spending.

Why is it a problem when corporations profit at prisoners expense but not when people with comfortable middle-class jobs as corrections and probation officers profit at prisoner's expense?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:09 AM on October 19, 2012


I didn't mean to imply that that also was not problematic. But, therere lots of issues intertwined here, so perhaps I'll just leave it.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:13 AM on October 19, 2012


Sorry, Burhanistan. I didn't mean to be critical of you specifically, I was honestly asking why we ignore the confluence of interests that create the current mass incarceration problem. Your formulation is pretty common, and I think we should be just as cynical about the middle-class interest in preserving the incarceration of poor non-whites, because otherwise the private prisons wouldn't be able to get their way.

Here's what I mean: it's a common way of articulating outrage to attack the corporations but not the guards. wolfdreams01 makes a similar point above.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:35 AM on October 19, 2012


The 'brand name' associated with the Federal Prison Industries is UNICOR - they are required to receive preferential treatment in Federal contracts. When the stimulus bill went though, no change was made to the contracting regulations, so a good amount of money went into prisons.

Here's a list of products and services

This was not popular.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:50 AM on October 19, 2012


For example, I refuse to consider selling drugs to be a victimless crime.* Yes, the people who buy drugs do actually buy them, but calling that "voluntary" is a joke. Drug dealers are enablers and entrappers, and their customers are victims

There are many substances people ingest for many purposes, with many different characteristics and effects. You cannot meaningfully generalize about "drugs" or "drug dealers" or "drug users", as though marijuana were equivalent to heroin, or as though either were equivalent to DMT; as though MDMA were equivalent to crack; as though Ritalin were the same thing as nitrous oxide; as though - well, the list goes on for a very long time. Many legal drugs are addictive, and many illegal drugs are not. The only thing illegal drugs have in common is that they are illegal, and the only thing that distinguishes them from legal drugs, as a category, is the fact that someone, at some point, has found it politically expedient to ban them.

What's more, most people who use drugs recreationally never become addicted, and most people who do become drug addicts do so because the drug gives them relief from some mental or physical problem they have been unable to find any other solution for. Perhaps a problem they didn't even know they had until they discovered that the drug fixed it.

The popular idea of the evil pusher who gives people scary addictive drugs thereby getting them instantly hooked and building a customer base just doesn't make any sense once you actually get in and understand why people use addictive drugs in the first place. This stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum. Every drug addict is a failure of the health care system: first to detect and diagnose the problem they had, and second to offer them effective treatment through legitimate channels.

In the end, though, I agree with you: it is not a victimless crime. The victims are the users AND the dealers, all getting screwed over by the massive, heartless, mindless inverted pyramid of fear and ignorance that is the War on Drugs, and the criminals include everyone who benefits from and continues to support this system of injustice.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:58 AM on October 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


leaving this here, to reiterate what entropone said:
Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
so unless we have FULL ABOLITION OF SLAVERY those subsidiary plantation industries that transitioned into today's penal colonies will continue to throw money at any opportunity they can get to incarcerate people --and that includes not just those "ghetto crimes" petty or not, but criminalization of abortion, homosexuality, activism, immigration, etc.
posted by liza at 11:19 AM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is it a problem when corporations profit at prisoners expense but not when people with comfortable middle-class jobs as corrections and probation officers profit at prisoner's expense?

Anotherpanacea, it's not a happy issue either way, but what makes this a threat when corporations do it (as opposed to a case of minor corruption when prison officials do it) is because corporations have the lobbying power to expand this slave system, and due to the amoral nature of corporations they inevitably gravitate to what maximizes profit.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:47 AM on October 19, 2012


There's a neighborhood in town which has lovely, affordable houses, just across the river from the cool/trendy gentrified area where artists, academics and students live. It's also got the worst gang problems imaginable: stabbings, shootings, drug house fires/invasions/riots (ie, angry folks turn up and arson/drive by/invade the place while the 'party' is going on), and prostitution, particularly of underage aboriginal girls.

My favourite story about the latter problem was the tale of the 50 year old man who had been paying 10-12 year old girls for sex with drugs, smokes and alcohol: he paid extra if the older girl brought a younger one. He had been living beside a middle school for years and participating in this 'victimless crime' the whole time. The outrage over the local paper's coverage of the story wasn't that a pedophile had been attacking children, but that the local paper mentioned blowjobs on the front page. After all, the girls were only dirty little Indians, just whores: who cares what happens to them. He was white, the girls Native: I don't think he was jailed, or if he was, it was for a very short sentence.

"Victimless" is a misnomer. I'd argue that anyone who lives in this neighborhood pays a pretty substantial price for the 'free and fair exchanges' that take place in their front yards and on their streets, even if they're not taking part in the trade (drugs, guns, sex) itself. And of course the trade enriches the assholes who make the neighborhood worse.
posted by jrochest at 11:50 AM on October 19, 2012


Wolfdreams01, prison unions have spent more on lobbying than private prison groups. Check the link you quoted.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:55 PM on October 19, 2012


I don't know what made me think the US passed laws outlawing slavery.

But then, murder is bad except when the government does it.
posted by Twang at 1:15 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


We hear the Occupy Wall Street people—and President Obama—advocate taxing the top 1 percent more. I've got a better idea: Let's tax the top 1 percent less and let a few hundred thousand of the bottom one percent out of prison—and out of poverty.

Am I the only one who read this as a ransom note directed to the lower class?
posted by Slackermagee at 1:48 PM on October 19, 2012


valkyryn: "Drug dealers are enablers and entrappers, and their customers are victims."

Enablers, perhaps, but entrappers? I can't say I've ever had a drug dealer come up to me and threaten to do violence towards me if I don't buy their product. If you think that operators of convenience stores who mainly sell beer, cigarettes, and junk food should get the same treatment, I'll applaud your consistency. Otherwise, I think you're full of shit on this one.

Anyway, since we as a nation have this Puritanical belief that work cures all ills, why don't we pay the prisoners minimum wage? Unicor would still be at a significant advantage by having a literally captive labor force, so they've got nothing to complain about, but at least people will get paid wages that wouldn't seem out of place in 1882 for their labor.

If you're worried about prisoners having too much money or something, have a forced savings plan, that way banks can make some money, too.

That said, I think it would still be a sick and broken system, but at least slightly less sick and broken, especially if prisoners could refuse to work for Unicor and instead do laundry or cooking or whatever else it is we've long had prisoners do.
posted by wierdo at 5:30 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


valkyryn writes "Same goes for those who manufacture drugs, especially things like meth, which is incredibly dangerous and toxic to produce. A highway near my apartment was shut down for an entire day when a truck containing materials from a meth clean up site was in an accident, because they had to call in the hazmat team to deal with all the chemicals. I'm willing to count simple possession as "victimless," but not cultivation, manufacture, or distribution."

This is only a problem because production is illegal which means:

a) Producers can't get easy to use precursors are are therefor forced to use more dangerous and less appropriate precursors usually with more variable quality control.

b) Producers have trouble buying the equipment to make the drugs safety so have to improvise with coffee makers and recycled milk jugs (or whatever; I'm not actually sure how meth is made nowadays). More explosions and more dangerous by products impacting the public.

c) Producers have difficulty hiring skilled workers. This is a three fold problem. First recruitment is difficult because they can't advertise then the pool of applicants is reduced to those who are will to work on an illegal product with sub standard equipment for criminals whose only contract enforcement procedure is assorted levels of violence. Finally a "bust" means starting over leading to a lack of continuity.

d) Producers can't openly rent space in industrial spaces designed for chemical processing so are running chemical labs in basements, sheds and (if Breaking Bad is to be believed) RVs.

e) Finally properly disposing of waste products would reveal the operation so lots of unsafe transport and illegal dumping occurs. And the waste is of higher volume and more dangerous because of the precursor problem mentioned earlier.

Take a look at opiates for another crazy example. Opium poppies would grow all over and many recreational users could grow their own if doing so wasn't illegal. So instead they import from across the globe (source in a defacto war zone no less) through several unregulated middle men who each have incentive to cut the raw product with what ever to increase their profit margin. Said adulterants often deadly.

Or the death spiral we're in looking for ever more elaborate chemicals which seem to be more dangerous which is why they weren't the first choice in the first place. See solvent abuse in northern communities where alcohol isn't permitted.
posted by Mitheral at 11:17 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


ceteris paribus, the economy with the lowest labour cost wins. In straitened times, the economy with the lowest labour cost survives. These are straitened times, and the US economy is manifestly failing. In the absence of higher codes of morality, mass incarceration and enforced labour at subsistence cost (a.k.a 'slavery') is more or less inevitable.

This story can only be properly understood in the context that the US now has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. The only variations are the veneers of rationality imposed on it to make it more palatable.
posted by falcon at 2:33 AM on October 20, 2012


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