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It’s Time to Stop Using Inmates for Free Labor


It’s Time to Stop Using Inmates for Free Labor

Annie McGrew

While many prison inmates work, there are no laws preventing the prison system from exploiting them for free or cheap labor.


Ah, the South. “Old times there are not forgotten. Look away, look away, look away, Dixieland.”

As the Neo-Confederates like to say: “It’s about heritage, not hate.”

Yeah, right.


There’s actually a Congressionally organized program that promotes the abuse of federal prisoners as a “patriotic” alternative to offshoring:

With modern factories, nationwide, a proven history and a diverse range of production capabilities and expertise, we represent American manufacturing you can count on to proudly support the ‘Made in USA’ label.


That’s interesting (and outrageous). I followed the link but didn’t see where the UNICOR program applied to Federal Prisoners - can you point me to the right place? Thanks


This is an important problem that Annie McGrew is bringing to our attention (although the bigger problem is the number of people we have incarcerated in the first place) . People that spend a good deal of their lives in prison are also doomed to live the rest of their life in poverty because of their inability to work for real wages while they are incarcerated. I agree with the author about the potential value of training programs - and the ethical principle of making prisoners subject to minimum wage laws. However, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to just provide the money earned as straight forward cash wages. I would prefer something that put funds in an account that provides support for the prisoner’s family, support for the prisoner when they return to society (especially retirement funds), and victim support (in the cases where the crime involved violence).


The story is about an OK “rehab” center that is really a poultry processing plant. Since some of the inmates technically went only based on a threat of conviction–they were not actually convicted–it is technically slavery in violation of Amendment 13.

Let’s not forget the people who AREN’T inmates. This particular plant uses so much slave labor that they have been able to lay off much of their paid workforce.


The 13th Amendment, boldng mine:

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.

And Congress does “enforce this article by appropriate legislation” - by paying Private Prisons to manage Labor Camps where enslaved convicts turn out millions of dollars of products for the military & private industry with negligible remuneration, and the states and local govts save millions in labor costs by using enslaved convicts.

Thus there is a perverse incentive to convict and incarcerate, one of several factors resulting in the US having both the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Prison reform in the US will happen only when the 13th Amendment Exception Clause is repealed.

Repeal the the 13th Amendment Exception Clause


Federal corrections, federal prisoners. At least they’re in competition with the state and lower-level for-profit operations.


Since CD allows only the <3 reaction, I’m compelled to show my urge to puke this way.


If nothing else, inmates that put their lives on the line fighting fires should have time knocked off their jail time.


Oops - that was dense of me. I didn’t realize that the “COR” in “UNICOR” stood for corrections and that whole website was part of Federal Prison Industries. You can’t get more of a direct advertising appeal for the exploitation of slave labor than that. Thanks for sharing the link.


Did you see the map? They are everywhere.


Yes - 83 factories with over 12,000 workers being paid between a quarter and a buck an hour making everything from solar panels to safety glasses. I did not realize this was that big of an operation. Very enlightening.
I actually kind of like some of the training aspects of the program for the inmates - and the job placement services that give a credit to companies that hire ex-UNICOR workers. But most of the prison labor involved does not seem to get those services and, of course, not even paying minimum wage is just plain exploitive.


Unicor, a wholly owned government corporation established by Congress in 1934. Its principal customer is the Department of Defense, from which Unicor derives approximately 53 percent of its sales. Some 21,836 inmates work in Unicor programs. Subsequently, the nation’s prison industry – prison labor programs producing goods or services sold to other government agencies or to the private sector – now employs more people than any Fortune 500 company (besides General Motors), and generates about $2.4 billion in revenue annually.


The cycle of collusion between the War on Terror warmongers and the War on Drugs prohibitionists in congress, and local militarized police is now crystal clear to me. I knew my Rep. personally profits from defense contractors (MIC), but I did not understand why he was also such a War on Drugs prohibitionist until I found out about slave prison labor.

  1. A person is sent to prison for a nonviolent offense, like drug possession, because it is easy for the cops to prove,and so many people use drugs.

  2. Prisoners become enslaved, with over 22,000 currently making military gear (well 53% of Unicor sales is to Dept. of Defense) thus the drug war is now supporting the War on "Terrorism’ (a loaded, racist, bigoted word as used by our war mongers).

  3. However can the military repay those cops? By giving them military weaponry, vehicles, technology via program 1033.

The cycle of War on Drugs feeding the War on Terror continues with collusion between the MIC, Congress/administration, and our now completely militarized police forces.

I wish the movie 13th had made this connection. We need some documentary film to explicitly do so.


Do you think any ex-felon is actually going to find employment paying a decent wage from a human exploitation gulag corporate system? You were right the first time, 83 factories with over 1,200 and counting human slaves of every ethnic, and racial background making less than a quarter and a buck per hour. Sad.


The 21st Century American version of Gulags and “chain gangs”. We as a country are creating a hell on Earth for people at home and abroad. Our oligarchs and “representatives” only care about people like themselves. That truth is everywhere we look!


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” seems like a cake walk compared to the modern day American penal system. Back then the Union of Soveit Socialist Republics (USSR) was not making big bank ( Wall Street) off its inmates. America is cruel in so many countless ways!


I don’t know about that, having been a student of Soviet society (and literature), and having worked data collection in prisons and jails in the NY/NJ area just a few years ago. There’s a lot that’s appalling about our “corrections” systems, but I wouldn’t compare them to the gulags that Solzhenitsyn described.


Go to Louisiana where there is no criminal justice system functioning. Life outside NY/NJ is way different than the rest of America.