They give you money and figure out how to take it back from you.
August 5, 2022 9:52 PM   Subscribe

"You're expected to work 10 hours a day, seven days a week, all for a whopping 20 cents an hour. On top of this, there's an hourly quota of license plate tags that you're expected to reach. If you can do this adequately enough on a consistent basis, then you'll be eligible for a raise every six months. The raise is (drumroll, please) … a nickel. You can get a nickel raise every six months up until you reach the maximum threshold of 55 cents per hour. " The Marshall Project asked prisoners to track their earning and spending — and bartering and side hustles — for 30 days.
posted by If only I had a penguin... (36 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
End slavery.
posted by aniola at 10:22 PM on August 5 [70 favorites]

And, checkout Ear Hustle Episode 32: Snack Money audio and transcript available.
posted by Gotanda at 10:29 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

What organizations are working on this most effectively? Is there anything I can sign?
posted by aniola at 10:43 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this is disgusting.
posted by maxwelton at 12:44 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

The 13th amendment
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.
Huh. Turns out we didn't abolish slavery after all.
posted by adept256 at 2:20 AM on August 6 [33 favorites]

Where's John Brown when we need him?
posted by nofundy at 3:40 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]

Mind blown there are co-pays.
posted by Mitheral at 5:00 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

We abolished slavery in the sense of holding title to a human being; we never abolished forced labor as punishment (although the 13th is why you usually can't get specific performance as a remedy when suing on a contract for personal services).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:14 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile inmates are risking their lives fighting wildfires because there aren’t enough people who actually want to do that. Despite their hands-on experience, they will almost never be hired by fire departments on release.
posted by obfuscation at 5:23 AM on August 6 [13 favorites]

Texas. It seems like every shit problem in our society always exist in Texas. We get all of them.
posted by Beholder at 5:34 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

The ✭✩✩✩✩ State
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:59 AM on August 6 [45 favorites]

This is heartbreaking.
posted by M. at 7:44 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of focus on the prospect of prisoners being enlisted to work for private corporations, but California recently scuttled the idea of eliminating involuntary servitude because it would then cost too much to run *the prisons themselves.*
posted by Selena777 at 8:05 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

California changed the law about prisoners becoming firefighters, but only enough to make people like me, who aren't paying close attention, think they had really changed things.
posted by surlyben at 8:20 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]

These stories are heartbreaking.

I'm a little weirded out by the framing about jobs and wages, as if prison had anything like a normal economy. It doesn't, and the $0.37/hour wages and the price hikes from $4.82 to $5.12 on soap just highlight what a mockery the fake economic system inside a prison is.

I don't even think prisoners should necessarily have a right to work and earn real money (although wouldn't that be interesting to try?) The real outrage in this article to me is the lack of even the most basic supplies for the people we've incarcerated; no soap, no decent shoes, no healthcare without a $2 fee. It's monstrous.

I'd love to read a book about the 13th amendment and its clarifying slavery was till OK for prisoners. I assume that reflected a moral or practical attitude of the time, of punitive labor. It was also a Reconstruction roadmap for the South to keep having slaves working the fields after what was supposed to be emancipation. The Southern states just invented pretexts to incarcerate workers to force them to work in the fields, either for the state or a private master. That's still how some Southern prisons work.
posted by Nelson at 8:42 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

I don't even think prisoners should necessarily have a right to work and earn real money

Imagine if prisoners left with rent + bond vouchers. Or small business loans contingent on training. Imagine if they re-entered society with housing and a hot dog cart.

Brooks was here
So was Red
posted by adept256 at 9:20 AM on August 6 [17 favorites]

Abolish prisons.
posted by aniola at 10:04 AM on August 6 [13 favorites]

When incarcerated people work for pennies, it undercuts wages in general.

It is probably easier to abolish than reform prisons. In theory, you could say that there would be some reasonable form of imprisonment as a consequence for antisocial actions or a way to keep people with a history of violence and sexual assault from hurting others, and in that reasonable form of imprisonment, imprisoned people could earn a living wage and pay reasonable prices to meet their needs. But to get there politically would require transforming the entire US political landscape, so if we're doing that, why not just get rid of them? I assume that we'd need some kind of system so that the very small number of unstoppably violent people were not on the street, but in general the prison system is just bad and produces bad results. Any other process obviously won't be perfect, but compared to the huge array of problems that prisons themselves cause, we're going to be net better off as a society by seeking other methods.

A lot of homeless people have been in and out of prison, or a lot of imprisoned people have been in and out of homelessness, and it's just stupid. Property crime to prison to homelessness to property crime to prison to homelessness, or maybe some violence thrown in once people have been beaten in prison or when they are in a bad situation on the street, and it's all bullshit - perfectly normal and capable people destroyed by repeated traumas, and then the suffering and trauma of their family and friends, and inevitably it all starts by criminalizing poor people.

I am from a lower middle class and middle class background. I grew up in a relatively affluent suburb and had the misleading experience of being one of the lower income kids despite my family having stable employment and a small but cozy house. Very, very, very few people from my high school go to prison, and that is because we are not criminalized from an early age - it's sure not because people are nicer, smarter or more moral. Even now, the schools there are not heavily policed and the police presence isn't the "beat you and take you to jail if you sass the principal" kind; teenage behavior is less heavily scrutinized so petty property or drug crime is overlooked or treated as a civil matter; and in general, people aren't constantly being deprived and kicked around, so there's no feeling of a foreclosed future or expectation that you will never get what you want or need.

We produce prison populations by depriving and criminalizing people - if this weren't the case, there would be a lot more people in prison from my suburb, because we are just the common run of humans. We produce prisons to control society and make money - the threat of prison, the specter of the criminal to scare people into voting for fascists and complying, the criminal as the excuse for endless police and developer graft, the flat out money that companies make from prison labor and extorting prisoners over phone calls and books.

Since we produce prisons and prisoners to stabilize the state and create graft the big goal should be abolishing prisons even if there are specific short term reform campaigns too.
posted by Frowner at 10:33 AM on August 6 [25 favorites]

At the very least, do not send non-violent prisoners to the same prison that violent prisoners are held.
posted by Beholder at 11:09 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]

At the very least, feed all prisoners adequate palatable and nutritious food.
posted by aniola at 11:19 AM on August 6 [10 favorites]

Ofer conceded that the greatest challenge is to stop sorting who receives relief based on a divide between violent and nonviolent offenses. “To genuinely end mass incarceration in America, we have to transform how the justice system responds to all offenses,” Ofer said. “Politically, this is a hard conversation. But morally, it’s clear what the direction must be: dismantling the system.”
posted by aniola at 11:26 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]


How corporations buy and sell food made by prison labor

" In 2011, Leprino Foods, the $3 billion company that supplies all the mozzarella to Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s pizza chains, lost its buffalo milk supplier in India.


But Leprino was in luck: One of its existing suppliers, which soon became one of the largest buffalo dairies in the United States, agreed to step in, and the milk began to flow. Leprino trademarked the slogan “with a kiss of buffalo milk” for Bacio, its premium mozzarella line marketed to independent pizzerias. Yet something seemed amiss, according to pizza cheese enthusiasts who frequented online forums: Where was Bacio getting the buffalo milk, and how much was it actually using?

The answer to the first question, it turned out, may have been the Colorado prison system, where incarcerated people working for the state’s correctional industries earn an average of $4.50 per day. Leprino was the only buyer of Colorado Correctional Industries’ buffalo milk between 2017 and 2020, purchasing more than 600 tons at an average price of $1.19 per pound, according to public records obtained by The Counter. (The records did not include sales from previous years, and the company did not respond to interview requests.) An independent buffalo dairy told The Counter it had sold small quantities of the same product for more than double the price Leprino paid.

Leprino was able to gain a competitive edge—access to an ingredient that’s difficult to source—by partnering with Colorado Correctional Industries (CCi). Had they known about the partnership, its customers (and their customers, the pizza-eating denizens of the United States) may have chosen to avoid the company’s cheese, whether out of a desire not to support the prison system or a belief that their food dollars should go toward companies whose workers earn living wages. But they probably never found out about the relationship: Prisons don’t generally publish the names of the companies that purchase the food they produce.

The Counter identified over $40 million in transactions between private food companies, prisons, and prison industries since 2017, including sales to major food industry players like Cargill and the Dairy Farmers of America. Across the country, at least 650 correctional institutions have some sort of food processing, landscaping, or farming operation, according to research by sociologist Joshua Sbicca and feminist geographer-political ecologist Carrie Chennault at Colorado State University. "

posted by hoodrich at 12:36 PM on August 6 [7 favorites]

Probably the closest employment experience for the unincarcerated is working at an Amazon warehouse. Prisons at least lack those execrable banners bearing the quotations of Chairman Bezos.
posted by y2karl at 2:07 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]

Lemme fix that for you.

"Probably the closest employment experience for the unincarcerated is a 105° Kitchen with two dudes on parole..
posted by clavdivs at 3:28 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]

forgot my billet.
Let's look at some results:

"Today, prisoners in most states are paid a nominal wage (in the range of cents per hour) for their work; however, a few states, including Texas, Georgia, and Florida, do not pay prisoners at all, and private companies save millions of dollars each year by contracting prison labor.
But nowhere is the evolution of slavery into mass incarceration more clearly seen than in places like Parchman Farm in Mississippi and Louisiana’s Angola farm, from which eight Innocence Project clients have been freed so far."

These folks have few people in thier corner when it comes to rehabilitation of the penal system. There is a strong community of ex-cons who have gone super hero in their work with addiction, housing, employment etc. All agree that people deserve redemption and justice in the case of wrongful incarceration. oddly, almost all believe there should be prisons but not like this. The dual edged sword is how to change laws to decrease incarceration, for example decrim recreational drug use, in the future and bringing to bare as many resources for prisoner rehabilitation as possible. IMO, the scared straight approach is not very effective because it's usually based in fear when a person is already facing fear. I believe the best folks that can help prisoners are former prisoners.
I don't know but I think society is willing to listen to more ideas and how to decrease their prison population.
and the number one thing that can help in the rehabilitation of a prisoner is showing them or helping them (re) find a purpose in life or how to achieve and apply purpose.
posted by clavdivs at 4:22 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]

Oh my god, here, read this story about a disabled woman who was literally hounded to death after shoplifting something for her kids because her puny disability payments left her too poor to take care of them. This is how people get into the system, it's how they become homeless, it's how they go to jail.

This is vampirism and parasitism as surely as if you chained those people down and stuck a tube in their arms. The two purposes are to indulge the sadism of the cops and judiciary (which they obviously engage in and enjoy) and to pump the money out of the people who have the least of it because the people who have the least can't fight back.

Every single crime story and lifestyle problem story is about getting all of us who are employed and housed to support the system that sucks the lifeblood out of people like this woman.
posted by Frowner at 8:38 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]

And, for that matter, every single panicky story about shoplifting or looting - any kind of shoplifting is clean and moral compared to the legal system.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]

Leprino Foods, the $3 billion company that supplies all the mozzarella to Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s pizza chains

It is 2022 and our pizza is literally made by slaves.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:32 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]

What is visible, but not fully spelled out, in this article is the parasitism of the middlemen in this system. The "administrative fees" for transferring your own money. The inflated costs of phone calls, almost certainly provided by a third-party company. The ridiculous commissary prices, goods again probably provided by a third party. Capitalism is jamming its beak in everywhere. To me this is actually a deeper problem than the jobs themselves, because if we weren't bleeding this population at every opportunity their earning opportunities would matter less.
posted by praemunire at 10:28 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]

I’d love to read a book about the 13th amendment and its clarifying slavery was till OK for prisoners.

You might try Allow Me to Retort by Elie Mysal.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:51 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Parchman is a blight on the soul of my state, slavery in all but name and used as a threat to anyone who would stand against the status quo. I had a neighbor who did a spell there after killing a man with a shovel during an altercation. He shot my dog for being on his property. No one who has been there - no guard, politician, or inmate - ever really leaves.

Abolish prisons.
posted by gwydapllew at 2:31 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]

parasitism of the middlemen in this system.

Imagine if prison guards had body cams.
posted by clavdivs at 3:52 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Just a reminder that there is a bill to close the slavery loophole, introduced in 2021 by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Georgia Congresswoman Nikema Williams (and I think introduced by Merkley and others previously, and re-introduced again this year ... and I am having no luck at all finding a link to this year's bill, even though there's a broken link saying Congresswoman Williams had 130 co-sponsors as of June 2022).

There are organizations helping to organize support for the Abolition Amendment, including

End The Exception (scroll down for their cookout resources)
The Abolish Slavery National Network - they have more of a focus on state-level amendments, recognizing how long it can take to pass a constitutional amendment (sigh, ERA)

If you are in the US, please contact your representatives at BOTH the federal and state level, and urge them to abolish this practice of slavery. (If you live in Colorado, Utah, or Nebraska, please call your state reps and thank them for doing the right thing and passing anti-slavery-exception legislation.) (Really, California? Surely you can get this done.)

If you have the time and energy this week, you can make a difference by raising your voice against this outrageous practice.
posted by kristi at 4:08 PM on August 9

Imagine if prison guards had body cams.

Fuck the guard's body cams and the endless contingencies thereon (though yes they should all have them), how about the spaces? Coverage is laughably cheap and any one officer's 1st person POV should not be determinative once you're in a carceral environment in which the state enjoys total control. Cameras not under the direct control of officers wearing them should be the presumptive truth in such environments.

Panopticon for thee but not for me?
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:18 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]

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