Penal labor in the United States
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Penal labor in the United States is explicitly allowed by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Unconvicted detainees awaiting trial cannot be forced to participate in forced rehabilitative labor programs in prison as it violates the Thirteenth Amendment.
The "convict lease" system became popular throughout the American South following the American Civil War and into the 20th century. Since the impoverished state governments could not afford penitentiaries, they leased out prisoners to work at private firms. According to Douglas A. Blackmon, because of the revenue received by local governments, they had incentives to arrest blacks; tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries, and farm plantations. In Florida, convicts were often sent to work in lumber camps and turpentine factories. The state governments maximized profits by putting the responsibility on the lessee to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the prisoners, with little oversight. This resulted in extremely poor conditions, numerous deaths, and perhaps the most inhumane system of labor in the United States. Reformers abolished convict leasing in the 20th-century Progressive Era, stopping the system in Florida in 1919. The last state to abolish the practice was Alabama in 1927.
Mississippi for-profit prison labor
Forced labor exists in many prisons. In Mississippi, Parchman Farm operated as a for-profit plantation, which yielded revenues for the state from its earliest years. Many prisoners were used to clear the dense growth in the Mississippi bottomland, and then to cultivate the land for agriculture. By the mid-20th century, it had 21,000 acres under cultivation. In the late 20th century, prison conditions were investigated under civil rights laws, when abuses of prisoners and harsh working conditions were exposed. These revelations during the 1970s lead the state to abandon the for-profit aspect of its forced labor from convicts and planned to hire a professional penologist to head the prison. A state commission recommended reducing the size of acreage, to grow only what is needed for the prison.
Hired convict labor
In 1934 federal prison officials concerned about growing unrest in prisons, lobbied to create a work program. Private companies got involved again in 1979, when Congress passed a law allowing them to hire prisoners in some circumstances.
According to the International Labor Organization, in 2000-2011 wages in American prisons ranged between $0.23 and $1.15 an hour. In California, prisoners earn between $0.30 and $0.95 an hour before deductions.
Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR or FPI) is a wholly owned United States government corporation created in 1934 that uses penal labor from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to produce goods and services. FPI is restricted to selling its products and services to federal government agencies, with some recent exceptions.
California Prison Industry Authority is an entity within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that develops and operates industrial, agricultural, and service enterprises using penal labor.
- Tsesis, The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom (2004), pp. 17 & 34. "It rendered all clauses directly dealing with slavery null and altered the meaning of other clauses that had originally been designed to protect the institution of slavery."
- "The Thirteenth Amendment", Primary Documents in American History, Library of Congress. Retrieved Feb 15, 2007
- "Military Headlines". Military.com. 2013-09-02. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II (2008)
- "Convicts Leased to Harvest Timber". World Digital Library. 1915. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- John M. Brackett, "Cutting Costs by Cutting Lives: Prisoner Health and the Abolishment of Florida's Convict-Lease System." Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South, 2007, Vol. 14#2 pp 69-83
- "MISSISSIPPI URGED TO REVAMP PRISON; Panel Proposes Eliminating Farm-for-Profit System." The New York Times, 8 October 1972, p. 8, Retrieved on August 12, 2010.
- "California governor seeks end to federal prison oversight"
- McCollum, William (1996). Federal Prison Industries, Inc: Hearing Before the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. House of Representatives. DIANE Publishing. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-7567-0060-7.