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[Prison Labor] [ULK Issue 8]
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MIM(Prisons) on U.S. Prison Economy

[edited for language and spelling - 12 January 2018]

over seer

Issue 8 of Under Lock and Key takes on the topic of Amerikan prison economics and prisoner labor. Prisons in the United $tates are funded by the states and the federal government, and they are quite expensive. The United $tates spends about $60 billion a year to house over 2.3 million prisoners and yet, as readers of Under Lock and Key well know, these expenditures result in no reduction in crime rates. Instead this is the high price tag for the most elaborate prison system of social control in the world.

Prisoners are useful as workers because they can be paid very low wages or none at all, they are always available and can be employed when needed without the difficulty of having to lay off workers in downturns, and they are literally a captive workforce who can be punished if they refuse to work. In many respects prisoners are similar to migrant workers who take the jobs that Amerikan citizens don't want except that migrant workers are at least free to move on or go home at night or pick between jobs.

There are many aspects to the topic of prison economics and prisoner labor, but they all tie back to the question of who is making money off all the prisoners who work for free or for very little money, and the bigger question of whether there is profit to be made off prisons in general. The main position that we challenged in ULK 2 was that the prison boom is motivated by a system of modern day slavery that is exploiting the masses through forced labor. In this issue we will further demonstrate that exploitation in prisons is not a source of private profit and discuss how profiteering on mass incarceration really evolved.

Profiteering Follows Policy

The importance of our point that prisoners are not generally exploited for economic profit is in understanding the real motive force behind the U.$. prison boom. Fundamentally, prisons are a money losing operation. It costs more money to run prisons than is generated from prisoner labor or any other aspect of the "industry." If prison labor was a gold mine for private profiteers, then we would see corporations of all sorts leading the drive for more prisons. On the contrary, though the fifth largest prison system in the United $tates is the private Corrections Corporation of America (CCA),(1) the government still runs over 95% of the prisons overall.(2) So if Amerikans didn't build the largest prison system in the history of humynkind for slave labor profits, then why did they do it?

As a parallel example, consider the war-profiteering of Halliburton and KBR through the military industrial complex; it was the government who started wars, and then the contractors appeared. In fact, the stories of most of these contractors start with people with political connections, not with any particular interest or knowledge of the product or service in demand.(3) War was created for the overall economic benefit of the imperialist system, but not by the companies that most directly profited. Once the profits start flowing, the intertwining of interests between politicians and their private benefactors creates conflicts between the imperialist interests abroad and those who are just trying to make a quick buck. Hence, we see some backlash against Halliburton and, their former subsidiary, KBR's corruption within the White House and the Senate (including the Senate hearing on May 4, 2009).

Similarly, the prison boom originated in government policy, and then new companies formed to profiteer, or in the case of telephone and commissary, old companies adapted their product to a specific opportunity. Prisons serve U.$. imperialism in controlling the local population, while placating the demands of the oppressor nation as a whole. Only now, with the emergence of mass incarceration, the demands of Amerikans for more prisons are more economically oriented, rather than just social. And most of that economic interest is among state employees and unions, not private corporations.

In Ohio, the Department of Corrections had to go to the state Supreme Court in order to close prisons over the protests of the guard union.(4) The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, notorious for being the strongest in the country, has applied similar pressures preventing the state from cutting anything from the CDCR budget except for education programs in recent years.

Private industries are making lots of money off prisons. From AT&T charging outrageous rates for prisoners to talk to their families, to the food companies that supply cheap (often inedible) food to prisons, to the private prison companies themselves, there is clearly a lot of money to be made. But these companies' profits are coming from the States' tax money, a mere shuffling of funds within the imperialist economy. Some companies like AT&T or some of the prison package services are selling goods or services directly to prisoners at drastically increased prices from what you'd get on the street. But even then, they are not exploiting the prisoners' labor, they are merely extorting their money. The private prisons are the only example where prison labor that is used to run the prisons may come into play in determining corporate profits.

Some activists see opportunity in the current capitalist crisis; perhaps states will be forced to listen to arguments claiming that prisons are a money pit for tax funds. However, Governor Quinn of Illinois responded to the crisis in his state last month by canceling plans of the previous governor to close Pontiac Correctional Center, citing "fiscal responsibility" and the protection of 600 local jobs and $55.4 million in local revenue.(5) Pennsylvania is continuing down its path of prison expansion with plans for 8,000 more beds in the next 4 years for the same reasons.(6)

These governments could generate jobs and revenue in countless ways. The reason that prison guards are generally funded over teachers is initially a question of the government's goals and priorities. While there is much public pressure to fund schools over jails, this battle is one for the labor aristocracy's unions to fight out. Revolutionaries have no significant role to play in such debates. We can combat national oppression with institutions of the oppressed, not by more jobs for Amerikans in one government sector or the other.

Meanwhile, the capitalist will invest in operations based on where the funding goes, so it is not really the evil corporations that are directly to blame for the U.$. prison boom. The government decides whether prisons are built. The U.$. government serves the overall interests of the imperialist class first and then must answer to its Amerikan constituency. It is the combination of these two interests that have led to the largest mass-incarceration in history. Currently, the strategy to dismantle this massive humyn experiment must recognize these two forces as the opposition, and then mobilize forces that have an interest in countering both imperialism and Amerikanism.

Prisoner Labor

After publishing an article entitled Amerikans: Oppressing for a Living, we received some criticisms from comrades of our position that corporations are not profiting from prison labor in a significant way. We then made a call to our correspondents on the ground across the United $tates to research this issue further. Not only did we receive much data to back up our position, but many wrote in to say that our analysis was right on.

In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are printing data on the prison labor going on in New York, Texas, California, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, Utah and the Federal system. These systems represent over half of the U.$. prison population, so we feel confident that our conclusions are fairly accurate for the system as a whole. We still welcome reports from correspondents in other states and prisons for future research.

In summary, all states have industries that produce goods for sale. Most if not all of those products are sold back to other state agencies, mostly within the Department of Corrections itself. Workers in these industries usually make more than those doing maintenance and clerical work, with a max of a little over a dollar an hour. While we don't have solid numbers, these are generally a small minority of the population and not available at most prisons.

Maintenance workers are also universal across all prison systems. Even most supermax prisons have lower security prisons adjacent to them, providing a labor source for running it. In many places such work is not called a job, but "programming." In some states, like New York, your programming can be pseudo-educational or rehabilitative programs instead of labor. Programming is often required. When it is paid it is usually less than fifty cents an hour.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has one of the largest prison industries selling goods outside of the prison system, but it is selling mostly to the Department of Defense — another government agency.(7)

The UNICOR annual report boasts the benefits of prisoner labor: "With an estimated annual incarceration cost of $30,000 per inmate, FPI's programmatic benefits represent significant taxpayer savings, while restoring former inmates to a useful role in society." They claim "a 24% lower recidivism rate among FPI participants."(8) There is no information on how this number is calculated but we suspect that it is flawed because the selection of UNICOR workers from the general prison population is not random. On the other hand, we do know that there are few opportunities for prisoners to acquire any useful skills prior to release. If UNICOR training truly reduces recidivism, this should be an obvious and compelling argument that prisons need more such programming. It does not have to be tied to low pay and forced labor.

Jobs related to running the prisons (cleaning, library, administrative roles, etc.) help reduce the costs of running prisons but clearly don't create any new wealth. UNICOR and its parallel industries in the state systems merely allow the Departments of Corrections to obtain money from other state agencies that they were going to spend anyway, or directly benefit the DOC by providing it with supplies. Even with requirements that state agencies purchase from such programs, they do not come close to covering prison expenses.

It is a dangerous proposition to tie financial benefits to prisons as this gives those who profit an interest in growing the prison population. However, at this point in time only a small minority of prisoners are actually employed, so prisoner labor does not appear to be a major drive behind the ongoing rapid growth of the U.$. prison population.

Modern day slavery or exploitation?

Many prisoners raise the question of whether forcing prisoners to work for no pay violates the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery. The 13th amendment abolished slavery "except as a punishment for crime." The article by some New York prisoners in this issue of Under Lock & Key does a good job of explaining the history behind this exception.

Slavery is a system characterized by the capture or purchase of humyns for the purpose of exploiting their labor. As Marx explained "As a slave, the worker has exchange value, a value; as a free wage-worker he has no value; it is rather his power of disposing of his labour, effected by exchange with him, which has value." Marx is clarifying the distinction that slaves, as objects to be purchased, have exchange value. While capitalist workers are not purchased, they are selling their labour instead.(9) While prison labor is similar to slavery in that it involves workers who are receiving virtually no pay for their labor but are being provided with housing and other basic necessities, there are a few factors in prison labor that distinguish it from slavery as we use that term to define a system of exploitation. First, states have to pay other states to take their prisoners, implying they have no exchange value. Prisons are used as a tool of social control, with the use of prisoners' labor only as an after thought to try to offset some of the operating costs. Which leads to our second point: there is no net profit made off the labor of prisoners - because of the cost of incarceration, the state is only able to offset a portion of the cost of providing for a prisoner by using his/her labor. Because of these features of prisoner labor, we do not call it slavery.

Even if prisoner labor is not slavery in the economic sense of that term, it is still possible that prisoners are exploited. Exploitation means that someone is extracting surplus value from the labor of someone else. The profit or surplus-value arises when workers do more labor than is necessary to pay the cost of hiring their labor-power. This is the way that capitalists make a profit — they pay people less than their labor is worth and then sell products for their full value. The difference is the profit.

In the United $tates, the imperialists are paying workers more than the value of their labor. They can do this because of the tremendous superprofits stolen from exploiting the Third World workers. And they want to do this because it maintains a complicit population at home which has a material interest in imperialism and keeps capital circulating with its excessive consumption. Amerikans support their imperialist government because they benefit from it. They may not all earn the same as the big capitalists, but even in a recession they can look to the Third World and see that they don't want to share the wealth around the world evenly because that would mean a step down for First World workers.

There are some notable exceptions within U.$. borders: non-citizens are often forced into jobs that pay far below minimum wage (or often don't pay them at all) as they are in a shady sector of the economy. Many migrants in the United $tates are exploited, but they make up a very small portion of workers in this country.

Using the term exploitation to describe prisoner labor is complicated. Prisoners certainly earn very little for their labor, but we also have to include the cost of providing prisoners all of their necessities (although with very poor quality that leads to many unnecessary deaths). Of course much of what is being provided "for" prisoners is not part of their cost of living but rather part of the cost of keeping them captive and providing a high standard of living for their captors.

It is fair to say that prisons are stealing the labor power of prisoners. They have made it impossible for prisoners to refuse to work and the actual pay prisoners receive is far less than the value of their labor. By stealing labor power, the U.$. prison system also prevents the self-determination of the Black Nation and First Nations whose people are vastly over-represented in the system.

To the extent that the states can't continue to run prisons on tax money they don't have, prisoner labor is a valued part of the money going to the many labor aristocrats working in the prison system. An offset to the cost of running prisons is useful, even if that offset does not come close to covering even the cost of those prisoners doing the work. But it's important to remember that this labor is only useful because expensive prisons existed first.

Solutions

A number of articles in this issue include calls from prisoners to take actions against the prison industries that are making money off prisoners, and to boycott jobs to demand higher wages. All of these actions are aimed at hitting the prisons, and private industries profiting off relationships with prisons, in their pocketbook. This is a good way for our comrades behind bars to think about peaceful protests they can take up to make demands for improved conditions while we organize to fundamentally change the criminal injustice system.

State-by-State Info

Florida

Prisoners are employed by the DOC, and most do maintenance and clerical work. No Florida DOC inmates are paid for work, with the exception of inmates assigned to work in the inmate canteens(making $65 a month) or the few locations in the state where they have PRIDE factories, which are manufacturing-type businesses run by DOC to make goods for correctional use (clothing, cleaning supplies, etc). Even these inmates are paid a few cents an hour.

Colorado

Denver Women’s Correctional Facility has a capacity of 900. Everyone is assigned for work unless they have medical excuses. Those not assigned to a job make 25 cents a day, 7 days a week. Those assigned to standard prison work make 60 cents a day, 5 days a week. Prison Industries jobs are a sewing factory, print shop, and dog training program. These jobs may pay up to $40 per month. All salaries are automatically docked 20% if restitution, court costs, or child support is owed.

Pennsylvania

SCI Fayette has about 1800 to 2100 prisoners, of those 1200 to 1400 work for the DOC doing various work assignments. Jobs are related to running of the facility, such as maintenance, commissary, grounds crews, schooling, laundry, barber shop, library and janitors. Some also work for "Correctional Industries." The pay scale is as follows in $/hour:

Step AStep BStep CStep D
Class 10.190.200.210.23
Class 20.240.250.270.29
Class 30.330.350.380.42

People usually work from 120 to 160 hours per month, so top pay would be $50.40 to $67.20. Correctional Industries (CI) makes 51 cents or about $81.60 a month. Like similar programs that exist in all 50 states, Pennsylvania Correctional Industries produces things such as furniture, clothing and personal care products primarily for purchase by state agencies.

Washington

Washington State Penitentiary holds about 2240 people. Of those around 250 work for correctional industries . Most of those sew clothes for inmates, the rest do welding of furniture for cells and make license plates. They pay up to $1.10/hr.

"Inmate duties" pay from $35 to $55 a month, and include cooking, cleaning, serving food and washing clothes.

Connecticut

In MacDougall-Walker CI only about 25% of prisoners have jobs here. Some pay rates here are:

job$/2 weeks
dishwasher$10.50
barbers, laundry, cooks$17.50
school$7.50
small engine repair$25
making uniforms/clothes$25

Oregon

Industry jobs pay between $100 to $175 a month and all the rest pay between $25 to $75 a month.
see Prison Labor at Oregon State Pen

Texas

In Texas, every general population prisoner is required to work. They either work in the service of prison upkeep (i.e. maintenance, food service, field labor, support service inmate, etc.) or they work in one of the various factories owned by TCI (Texas Correctional Industries). There is no pay for work.

Texas prisoner forced to work for no pay
Prison labor stats in Texas
Work, money and good time in Texas


New York

New York has programming that varies from educational/rehabilitative programs, to maintenance work to CorCraft industries.

Grade 116¢ per hour
Grade 225¢ per hour
Grade 332¢ per hour
Grade 438¢ per hour
Grade 542¢ per hour

Each facility is limited to a small number of people being paid grade five, so in all actuality Grade 4 is top pay.

see New York Prisoners report on Labor and Economics

California

For wages between 8¢ and 34¢ an hour prisoners do normal maintenance work as well as produce clothing, food, bedding, cleaning products, tables, chairs, modular offices, license plates and the tags that go on them for the state.

see Remove the profit motive
Prison labor and economics in California: who really profits?

Wisconsin

Wisconsin pays for programming including educational programs, prison maintenance and Badger State Industry jobs. The pay ranges for non-industry work are: 12 cents ($9.60 every 2 weeks) to 42 cents ($33.60). At Green Bay CI, with about 1050 prisoners, about 300 work maintenance and only 18 prisoners work industry, which makes from 79 cents to a dollar an hour. They make clothing for outside vendors and to sell to prisoners around the state.

Utah

Utah pays $7 a month and has thrown out a lot of work positions that use to be available. The prison does manufacture houses in their carpentry program, and UCI commisary has convicts making sweats and shorts down in Gunnison, then selling these products back to the U.$ and community.

Federal

In Coleman II, 90% of prisoners work, most of them do facility maintenance for $12 a month to work 8 hour, 5 day workweeks. A minority get to work for UNICOR.

The private industries run by UNICOR employ 21,836 prisoners across the country, with pay ranging from 23 cents to $1.15 per hour. In 2007 UNICOR showed profits of over $45 Million, with most of their products being military supplies for the Department of Defense.


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[Prison Labor] [Utah]
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Utah prisoner labor

Here at Utah’s plantation they’ve cut jobs that used to pay $60 a month to just $7 a month and thrown out a lot of positions. So one guy does the work of what used to take several. The prison does manufacture houses in their carpentry program, and UCI commisary has convicts making sweats and shorts down in Gunnison, then selling these products back to the U.$ and community. I’ve been out of population for a year now but the above is what I was seeing at that time.

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[Prison Labor] [Federal Correctional Complex Coleman USP II] [Florida] [ULK Issue 8]
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Federal Prisons and Prison Labor

I am a federal prisoner confined to the Coleman II United States Penitentiary. In most federal penitentiaries there are approximately 1500 prisoners in the general population. Approximately 90% of general population prisoners hold prison employment working jobs that range from being cooks in the kitchen, providing janitorial work throughout the prison, working in the maintenance department as electricians or plumbers, or in the most coveted of prison jobs: the UNICOR factory.

Prisoners are compelled to work in two ways. First, the administration utilizes the Financial Responsibility Program to coerce prisoners to work. All convicted Federal prisoners are assessed $100 per count for the crimes for which they are convicted. Many others are given fines, restitution and other "criminal monetary penalties" at sentencing. When a prisoner arrives to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, s/he is required to pay these "financial obligations" during incarceration through the Financial Responsibility Program or face loss of privileges such as commissary, telephone, visitation access, etc. A prisoner must obtain prison employment to meet these so-called obligations in order to keep his/her ability to maintain community contacts through visits and phone calls and to supplement the horrid diet through the commissary.

The second means of lawful but unjust enslavement of the prison population is through disciplinary action. A prisoner who refuses to work is, under prison rules and regulations, "refusing to program." Violating this rule also results in loss of privileges but has additional adverse consequences such as loss of "Good Conduct Time," time in disciplinary segregation, impoundment of personal property, and other sanctions.

It is without doubt that if the federal government had to pay wages to unincarcerated laborers, the cost of cleaning, maintaining and repairing prisons would be extraordinary. It is much easier to run the gulags of America when you prey upon the incarcerated poor and offer them $12 a month to work 8 hour, 5 day workweeks.

This does not account for the UNICOR laborers. UNICOR, also known as Federal Prison Industries, manufactures uniforms, kevlar helmets, furniture, armored cars, and other materials for the U.S. military. Prisoners are paid a maximum of $125 a month but can make hundreds in overtime. To the average prisoner such wages are too tempting to pass up. They don't realize they are fuel for the capitalist military industrial complex which saves hundreds of millions of dollars making military material and products in prisons.

Prisons may not reap profits but they do save costs with prison labor which, considering the amount saved, is tantamount to profits. It is certainly a basic tenet of the criminal injustice system and helps the government run its oppression camps by not having to tax the average citizen to run these torture chambers. Nothing grabs the attention of Americans more than taxes, more prison labor means more prisons without more taxes.

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[Prison Labor] [Choice Moore Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 8]
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Work, Money and Good Time in Texas

I live in a "transfer facility" known as the Choice Moore Unit, in Bonham Texas. This facility houses 1,200 prisoners in eighteen 68-man dorms. Being that this is a transfer facility, people will stay here about 2 years before we are actually integrated into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's prison system. This facility is known as a "farm" because it's main operation is the farming fields around our facility. The majority of the prisoners work either in the fields, kitchen, laundry, or go to school.

There are only a few classes here, and all of them are not vocational. The classes provided are: cognitive thinking changes, GED, and voyagers (which is a religious class). The rest of the jobs here are: supply room, kennel/horse worker (for trustees), dorm janitor, administration helper, inmate commissary, and that's about all. None of these jobs pay us and from what I understand, TDCJ does not pay any money to prisoners. The TDCJ pays us by gaining us "good time" credits and "worktime" credits.

People in the TDCJ system are really forced to work, and here's why: If a person refuses to work, they get a written major case for not working. Once brought to a disciplinary hearing and found guilty, you lose commissary privileges, recreation privileges, and go down in line class status (line class is what gives you privileges, % of work time/good time credits, and is used for classification reasons also.) If after a period of time you were assigned another job and refused to work again, you would be written up for a major case again and the consequences continue to get worse. If continued refusal to work happens, you may end up on a max unit in the "hole" doing all your sentence. Here's another aspect of what happens to us here. Any major or minor case will be forwarded to your parole board. The parole board uses major cases (any case whether petty or not) to give offenders one year set offs, up to 3 year set offs, until they can be up for parole again. So basically any case write-up in here is like being sentenced another year.

Let's say I make 100% of my work time credits and I go up for parole and never had a write up for misbehavior. Now I get a 2 year set off from parole, even with no cases and 100% of my work credit done. Now let's say a guy had 30% work time, 25% good time credit and 2 major cases and he's up for parole. Somehow they let him go home on parole. Parole here does what it wants and all the good time and work time is just for show on paper. They do not actually honor it.

Now for crimes considered "aggravated," they make people do half their time before they are eligible for parole, but they do not get good time credits. They do, however, get work credits. But like I said, it's all for the look - we really don't get shit. A person can get 100% work time and be at half his sentence and not get released on parole (so there's no pay). People can have 3/4th of their sentence done flat time and have 150% work time credits, but still be made to serve all their sentence (there's no pay again). My point is, we do not actually get any pay or reward for working and are therefore slaves to this and for this system.

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[Prison Labor] [Organizing] [California] [ULK Issue 8]
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Remove the Profit Motive

I am currently incarcerated in California serving a 220 year life sentence that I'll never finish.

I know every state is a little different as to how it taxes its prisoners and uses the sweat of our slave labor to promote the prison industrial complex. Following is an outline of a few of the ways they do it here in California.

Some of our taxation comes in the form of "restitution," for which we are taxed 55 percent of all money that lands in our prisoner trust accounts. Ten percent of that goes to the prison for administrative costs and the remainder goes to the state's general fund.

The next money-grabber comes in the form of a $5 co-payment for all medical and dental visits, which is outrageous considering that we are provided substandard and unconstitutional medical, dental, and mental health services under the control of a court-ordered receivership.

Another tax comes in the form of our prisoner welfare fund, which gets collected in various ways, the most common of which is a 10 percent tax on the purchase of an appliance, quarterly package, special purchase or hobby supplies.

A lot of guys - and girls - are unaware of the money that gets clipped from our friends and family. For example, every time we make one of those collect calls, our friends and family get clobbered with outrageous phone bill charges, which the phone companies kickback to the prison for allowing them to provide us with phone service. To give you an idea how badly our families are being taxed by these calls, last year the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) received over $25 million in kickbacks from phone companies.

A similar tax can be found in our visiting rooms by way of the "super high" prices of vending machine items. The vendors, like the phone companies, pay kickbacks to the prisons for the privilege of putting their machines in our visiting areas! I don't know what this amount is annually, but I assure you, it's a lot.

Also in the visiting area are the sales of pictures for which all the profits go to the inmate welfare fund, which gets quietly shuffled into the general fund. The same applies to the profits from our canteen purchases.

Next we visit the prison labor issue. Here in California we've been operating with a pay scale system that was developed in the 1970s and there hasn't been a cost of living adjustment since it was implemented. In fact, the only change that has come has been the elimination of paid positions, because there is always some desperate prisoner who is willing to work for nothing just to get out of his or her cell. This practice must stop if we are ever to see a pay increase.

We pretty much make everything for the state prison system and government offices: Clothing, food, bedding, cleaning products, tables, chairs, and even modular offices. We make license plates and the tags that go on them; our labor saves the state $billions annually. Yet we continue to jump at the opportunity to work for 10 cents an hour or for nothing at all!

I could go on for hours about all the ways the state is extorting our money and the sweat of our labor. It's endless, and all we are doing is making it possible for them to hold us longer and, quite possibly imprison our friends, neighbors and loved ones to expand their prison industrial complex. This has got to stop.

Now, here's my solution. This should work, considering the current economic crisis affecting every state, but it won't come easily or without sacrifice.

I call upon everyone to use up or send out all the money in your prison trust account. This will deprive the state of millions of dollars that they acquire from interest on our money, as well as funds they won't get from restitution, fines, inmate welfare and other bogus charges, because we'll have no money to spend. Second, everyone must stop using the phone and start writing instead. Third, stop working for nothing. I guarantee you this will quickly get the attention of your administrators - but don't collapse under pressure. Last, demand prisoners' rights, including the right to vote. Once that is established you will have the power to do just about anything.

For everyone's information, I want you to know I have already undertaken this plan of action. I have remained indigent since my incarceration in 2005 and, as a direct result, the state pays me 20 metered indigent envelopes a month, all my necessary hygiene equipment, soap, razors, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb and so forth. They also pay for all my legal copying services, paper, envelopes and postage of which I have used many. I have deprived the state of the interest from my money and the $850,000 it claims I owe in restitution. I have refused to work from day one and will continue to do so until I see radical changes in prisoners' rights. I don't pay for my medical visits or my medications, which are numerous and extremely expensive.

Again, I could ramble on for days, but I want you all to start thinking about how you are contributing to the prison industrial complex and start taking actions to change this environment in which we live. If done nationwide, we can and will stop the heart of the Prison Industrial Complex by removing the profit motive.

MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade points out a lot of ways that prisoners can take legal and non-violent actions against the so-called prison industrial complex. This sort of organizing is important. However, this will not remove the motivation for imprisonment in the United $tates. While people are making extra money off of prisoners through all the methods listed above, the fundamental source of money for prisons is still the government. Prisons are not profitable in the sense that they do not generate enough value to pay for themselves. They are a subsidized industry that pays a lot of people a lot of money to build, fill and operate. And so the portion of this that prisoners can impact by the direct actions described in this article is limited to a minority of the money. That doesn't mean these actions will be useless, but we can't fool ourselves into thinking these actions alone will stop the heart of the Prison Industrial Complex.

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[Prison Labor] [Texas]
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Prison Labor Stats in Texas

How many prisoners (slaves) at this facility: 500, it's a so-called transfer facility. More like a large holding cell or big shoe box where you stay for up to 2 years.

How many of them work?: All except the medically unassigned, seg and medium custody.

What do they work for?: To avoid negative retaliation by TDCJ (example, I am currently in seg becaues I refused to work in TDCJ forced labor.)

What work do they do?: Kitchen workers, SSI, Broom squad, laundry, over half of them work in the "hoe squad". Field work is all forced labor.

How much do they get paid? What is that question, some kind of joke? Sorry. Nothing. No one gets any type of compensation other than to please parole (like a rabitt with a carrot typed to the end of a stick) or to avoid catching a case and being placed on discipline.

All TDCJ offenders are forced to perform labor under one type of direct threat or another. How they are able to keep the lid on this I don't know.

This article referenced in:
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[Prison Labor] [Texas]
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Fighting for good time in exchange for slave labor

Here is a copy of my timesheet. This is one of the topics I feel should be looked into. See a prisoner filed a lawsuit to get the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to either pay the prisoners for working or give them good time for working to help the prisoner be released early for good conduct. Well that was a Federal ruling and he won the case and agreed to good time for working instead of pay for the slave labor they make us do.

Well a few years later the state of Texas changed its policy to that ruling so that it overrode the federal ruling and made it discretionary to the release of a prisoner. So here in simple terms is what that means. The federal courts say when a prisoner's flat time, good time and work time equals his/her full sentence you have to release that person to mandatory supervision. Well by Texas making it discretionary they have overridden this federal order and made it where they can deny the release and it's wrong as you can see. I have 203% of my time done.

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[Prison Labor] [California]
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Calculations on Prison Population and Labor

At this prison, a prisoner who is on full program who works one of their job or education or vocation schemes is classified as A1A. For an A1A prisoner the CDCR gets $45,000 a year. A prisoner who is programming and is eligible for a work or education position but none are available are classified as A2B. For an A2B prisoner the CDCR gets $35,000 a year. A prisoner who refuses to program or is in ad-seg or the SHU is classified as C-Status or D1D status. For a prisoner of C-status or D1D status the CDCR only gets $22,000 a year.

There are 37+ CDCR prisons. Each prison has 4 prison yards. Each yard has 5 buildings plus a gym full of captives. Each building has 100 cells (doubled up - two prisoners per cell). That's 200 prisoners in the cells per building. Each building also has 40 dayroom bunks and each gym has 220 bunks. All total per prison yard that is 1,420 prisoners. And multiplied by 4 yards that is 5,680 prisoners per prison. With 37 prisons that would be 210,160 prisoner captives.

Now here's where everything gets very ambiguous. The CDCR won't give a clear number of prisons. They always say 37 (plus) prisons. It's the "(plus)" that is so ambiguous. It's what ex-pres Bush called fuzzy math that only a politician could understand.

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[Prison Labor] [National Oppression] [New York] [ULK Issue 8]
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Slavery Without Capitalist Exploitation

UPDATE: On 9/17/2009 the comrade who wrote this letter was killed in Attica Correctional Facility

I received the January 2009 issue #6 of Under Lock & Key, for which I was most grateful. I salute the Mexican comrade for his excellent and exemplary contribution to that issue ("Misplaced rejoicing in prisons over Obama victory"). I am a Black man, the son of an Eritrean emigrant and a descendant of First Nation peoples and Africans enslaved and transported to the Amerikas. The comrade was right on target, especially when he wrote: "... How can there be real change if the system is never changed, only its leaders? For those of us who are convinced that we are 'soldiers' ask yourself, who's soldier are you? Are you some common criminal's soldier? Do you fight and work for greed, power and lust of recognition? Or will you be the People's soldier?..." Yes. I salute the comrade for his courage and determination. Palante, siempre, hermano!

I am responding as well to your request for feedback on your assessment of the prison labor/economics situation. I have been aware of the reality of MIM's findings for some time, and am in agreement with you wholeheartedly. I perceive that prisoners' disagreement with MIM's assessment is not rooted in an analysis of the facts on the ground but rather is due to their misunderstanding and confusion regarding the nature of our enslavement.

It seems that prisoners who disagree with your findings do so actually because they fear that such assessments will confound the acknowledgment of U$ imprisonment as slavery and a capitalist enterprise. U$ imprisonment is certainly slavery and it is certainly a capitalist enterprise whether prison labor is a source of great profits or not. Forced or coerced labor is not the most defining characteristic of slavery and such labor within U$ imprisonment is hardly the source of the real lucrative profiteering that stems from U$ imprisonment in general. The depraved creatures who crafted the language of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution understood this all too well.

slave n. one owned by another: one completely subject to another or to some habit or influence;
slavery n. the holding of persons as property;
(The New International Webster's Pocket Dictionary of the English Language, New Revised edition. Trident Press International 2002)

And it is enough for the state and government to "own" us to profit from us, whether we are sweating away in their industries or not. Much of the elaboration that follows is adapted from "Prison Town", by "The Real Cost of Prisons" project:

During the 1980's and 90's many jobs and sources of income evaporated in the rural and farm areas of this country. Federal, state and local officials were then tasked with discovering a new type of "growth" industry that would revive and sustain the dying economies of the municipalities, districts and sectors they were elected or appointed to serve. Prisons were touted as a viable growth industry with significant potential. Perhaps it was for this reason that former New York State legislator Daniel Feldman stated, "When legislators cry 'lock 'em up!', they often mean 'lock 'em up in my district!'" Certainly it was for this reason that Texas judge Jimmy Galindo said:

"We live in a part of the country where it's very difficult to create and sustain jobs in a global market. [Prisons] become a very clean industry for us to provide employment to citizens. I look at it as a community development project."

Some private developers build prisons in states like Wisconsin without legislative edict from officials and then "sell" the prisons, prompting people like former Wisconsin state corrections chief Walter Dickey to declare,

"... It flatly introduces money and the desire for profit into the imprisonment policy debate, because you've got an entity in Wisconsin, a private entity, with a strong financial interest in keeping people in prison and having them sentenced to prison."

Investment banks, construction companies, private developers, real estate agencies and many others stand to profit immeasurably from prisons in innumerable ways. Federal, state and local officials are then lauded for bringing financial security and economic prosperity to their respective regions and lobbyists.

This phenomenon was complemented by another phenomenon, namely the "mandatory sentencing", "three-strikes-you're-out" and "rockerfeller-type drug" laws introduced by legislators during the same aforementioned period of rural economic decline. It is no secret nor is it debated that such legislation contributed to a 370% prison population growth since 1970. Small wonder, then, that there are more prisons in America than there are Wal-Mart stores.

Thus it matters little whether the imperialist slaveowners can glean profits from our work on their institutional plantations. Their ownership of us prisoners ensures a diverse profit source, whether by accommodating the labor aristocracy or enriching corporate entities.

Thanks to MIM(Prisons) for providing a venue where revolutionary-minded prisoners can connect and exchange ideas. Among other things, Under Lock & Key certainly accomplishes that. I hope that the information in this letter will be useful towards compiling the upcoming issue on prison labor/economics.

MIM(Prisons) adds: As we explain in the introduction to this issue of ULK, we prefer Marx's definition of slavery to the one found in Websters and so conclude that imprisonment is a system of oppression distinct from slavery. We agree with this prisoner's discussion of the ways that corporations, labor aristocrats, and Amerikan imperialism benefit from imprisonment. In addition to the points discussed by this comrade, the lockup of oppressed nations by the U.$. prison system also prevents the self-determination of those nations through their own labor. So, while capitalist profits are not generally extracted from the 2.3 million locked up, that is a huge chunk of labor that is being denied to the oppressed that otherwise could utilize their people locked up to further the development of meeting the needs of their respective nations, and the oppressed people of the world in general.

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[Prison Labor] [California] [ULK Issue 8]
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Prison Labor and Economics in California: Who Really Profits?

There's a little over 4,200 prisoners at this institution. About 200 or more of these prisoners are level one. They are housed outside the gun towered perimeter, in what they call the minimum support facility. All of these prisoners have jobs consisting of laborer positions, from warehouse workers to clean up crews and landscaping, their wages are at a maximum of 13 cents an hour. Other jobs include dump/garbage truck drivers and car/truck maintenance. These other prisoners cannot earn more than 32 cents an hour. The rest of the population is level IV prisoners housed in A, B, C and D facilities, and two ASUs (D facility is SNY). With the exception of facility D, which has a joint venture program where about 100 prisoners earn the minimum wage. There are no other type of jobs in any of the other facilities, with the exception of support services positions such as yard clean up crews, kitchen, chow hall and a few clerical positions in education, program office, canteen, and law library. There would probably be somewhere around 150 job positions per facility with only about half of these positions being pay numbers earning anywhere from 8 cents to 32 cents an hour.

Yes, pay numbers are a joke throughout California prisons, and yes, we are being exploited to a certain degree, but not in the way that you may think. Profits are being made not so much from prisoner labor but from filling up the bed space in all of these prisons. Each prison creates more than 1,000 job positions with prison guards and medical staff being the highest number and receiving payment at about close to $50 an hour plus overtime. And it is my belief that besides the heads of the CDC, it is the prison guard's union that is profiting the most from our incarceration.

It is no wonder they always spend millions of dollars to kill every proposition or assembly bill that goes on the ballot concerning reduction of prisoner sentences or amendments to modify their biggest accomplishment, the three strikes law. Many people benefit from crime (police officers, public defenders, district attorneys, judges, etc.), and from incarceration in state prison, the matter at issue here. All these people in turn spend money and contribute to the imperialist economy. Then, there come the contracts each warden has with many different food suppliers where a lot of money is being handed down under the table. Also, the contracts with the phone company and package vendors where a lot of kick backs go to wardens or other head officials within the CDC. So as you can see, everybody's a winner in this game except us of course. With the biggest winner being the imperialist government, followed by CDC head officials and the prison guard's union being the ones getting the biggest piece of the pie.

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