Economic Investigation of Washington State Penitentiary

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[Prison Labor] [Washington] [ULK Issue 3]
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Economic Investigation of Washington State Penitentiary

How many prisoners at your facility?
According to information online, the capacity is 1825, but there are actually 2,240 prisoners being held here.

How many of them work?
An estimate will show that around 250-280 work as correctional industries employees. About 150 of these work on the sewing complex. The sewing complex is making most of the clothes we, the inmates, are provided with. They also produce materials for out of state contracts. The rest work on welding, license plates and perhaps other work. They make all types of stuff, from bunks to tables and everything they need to equip a cell.

Another form of employment that they have for inmates is what they call "Inmate duties." They pay from 35-55 dollars per month, depending on what type of job you get. Basically, this kind of job consists of cooking, cleaning, serving the food, washing the clothes and anything that is needed to run and keep a place like this clean. There are probably another 250-270 inmates working these types of jobs.

Who do they work for?
As far as I know, everything at this place is supposedly run by the state.

What work do they do?
As I mentioned earlier, sewing and welding are the main industrial jobs. The rest are not considered jobs, but "Inmate duties."

How much do they get paid?
The industrial complexes pay up to a dollar ten cents per hour. The rest of the jobs go from $35 to 55 per month.

Now, up to this point it might not seem like a big profit is being taken, but there is. Who is profiting from all this? The working class in this country, which is not exploited as they claim. Considering that those industrial complexes are run by the state, this is how I would explain who is profiting from all this. In this place there are around 280 inmates who are doing correction industries jobs. If we assume that all of these 280 inmates are working 40 hours per week, we would have 582,400 hours per year of work by this group. At $1.10 per hour, 582,400 hours of labor in the industrial complex would cost $640,640. If now, we decide to do this job with the same amount of people, but instead of paying them $1.10, we pay the Washington state minimum wage of $8.07, then the labor alone would cost $4,682,214. They are saving over four million dollars by using inmate labor, just in this place alone, comparing to state minimum wage salary. But most of the state industrial jobs are well-paid jobs in the outside world. So, if you compare these kinds of jobs, we have another loop that I cannot resolve myself, but will likely account for millions of more dollars in cost savings. I would assume anybody would get paid from 13 to 20 some dollars on the outside for welding work. This could mean a savings of over $10 million.

So far, we are talking of the cost of labor assuming that the state will use all of its products, which is a lie because they have sent products overseas. Now, all this profit will get shared down to every single person who works for the government, especially the department of corrections and the state police. How will this be shared? Better medical care than civilians, better salary than civilians, and better retirement plans. Better exemptions in tax collection. They benefit in so many ways, from which regular civilians are excluded. That is the main reason they support more incarceration rather than trying to educate the prison population in making better choices, if you want to call it "making a choice" when you have been culturally bombed to act stupid.

So when you stated in your article about prison labor that "corporate America do not benefit or do not benefit as much as people have suggested," I believe you are wrong, especially when you look at the benefits of corporate America not as monetary benefits, but rather ideological. Even though there are monetary benefits. Let me ask the following question: Who opposes socialism and the road to communism? Who is in charge of destroying any community based programs for society? Who is in charge of blocking any type of political analysis that tries to make society aware of the necessity to change? Who is in charge of the bad propaganda about Mao, Stalin or Lenin? It is the same corporate America and allies who created the first and second World Wars. To them, the government is just the legal way to repress rebellion. Government bodies are just structures that are defined by how we use them. When Lenin took power, the philosophical structure of the government remained in place, but the practice changed, that is why I believe that you are wrong on this point.

And why is it that when you try to tell people employed by the government about a conscious analysis of history they most likely will reject you? It may not be as big as exploiting the national resources of Third World countries in monetary measurements, but at home they have no opposition because of the juicy salaries they are able to give to their war machine, which is from the DOC all they way up to the presidency. Everybody gets enough to live a luxurious life, when the rest of the world gets screwed.

And the big help lately has been the "cheap labor," the inmates who willingly and ignorantly help the government oppress the rest. So I do not think it is correct to say that the government and corporate America do not benefit from it. Inmate labor is too important for this system that the prison population will only increase in this country and in any other capitalist country.

MIM(Prisons) responds: After a discussion with the author we uphold that we have less disagreement than they seem to think we do. MIM(Prisons) never stated that corporate amerika does not benefit from the institution of prison labor or prisons in general. And we agree with the author that the bourgeois state serves to benefit the imperialists as a whole. We have only suggested that it is not corporate profit motives behind decades of prison boom, but rather the national and bureaucratic interests of the oppressor nation that the author describes above. We can even agree that prison labor is too important to the system for it to go away. But that is because it would become cost prohibitive to run the prisons that are already becoming too expensive for public tastes. This is in contrast to the super-exploitation of the Third World (in terms of labor, not just natural resources) that the imperialist countries could not exist without.

Other than asking what are the interests behind the u$ prison industrial complex, we are also looking at the question of the existence of a proletariat within u$ borders in our research on prison labor. Competitiveness on the international market for low-tech items such as clothing indicate that Washington's correctional industries pay a wage that is approximately competitive with the Third World, ignoring state subsidies and other trade irregularities that prevent a truly free competition. One such subsidy is the fact that prisoners are provided room, board and limited necessities before they are paid the $1.10 per hour. For this reason these wage rates are not directly comparable to the Third World. Regardless, these figures seem to suggest that there is legitimate exploitation of labor power going on here, and not just the transfer of surplus value between various labor aristocrats as occurs in most of the First World economy. But being a part of this greater social reality, and considering that most will likely be free u$ citizens again someday, we still see a predominately petty bourgeois consciousness among u$ prisoners. More are amerikan dreaming to be the next Jay-Z or Big Pun instead of trying to organize prison labor to seize the means of production for the people.

The calculations done by the comrade above are an excellent example of exposing the economic realities within u$ borders, and we encourage others to follow this example to create reports in their own state or facility to print in Under Lock & Key. Of course, if prisons didn't use prison labor, they would probably import furniture from China, not hire amerikan welders. This cost comparison would be harder to come up with, though certainly the prisons themselves have done it and decided that prison labor is cheaper. However, work that must be done on site would be paid the minimum wage at least, and would account for additional millions of dollars added to the estimate above.

Finally, one of the most important points we can take from this report is that this is all state run, as is most common across the country. As we argued in our article that sparked this discussion, Amerikans: Oppressing for a Living, the cost savings are going to reduce the need for taxes for all u$ citizens, while providing the funds for wages and benefits for those who work for the state and especially the departments of corrections and the police, as stated above. If these industries are also pulling in profits from sales overseas, again this money is presumably going to offset/subsidize state expenditures. It is a form of state capitalism that lays the groundwork for fascism quite nicely integrating the corporation into the state and providing direct monetary benefits to the general population for expanded oppression.

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