Prison Labor: An Emblem of Modern-day Slavery in the US

by Eli Mshomi
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The United States’ prisons depict a sorrowful state of the unofficial slavery that is still prevalent in the country.

The US prisons are the epicenter of human rights violations, on top of which are the unsanitary conditions, medical abuse, and pushing the prisoners to involuntary labor.

As people of color outnumber whites in the American jails, this slavery is exclusively directed against Black Americans, portraying a sense of racism in the country.

Just like the earlier times when slavery was allowed in the country, this time, the corporate heavyweights are exploiting the prisoners for their own benefits.

And the shocking thing is that the US laws allow the companies to use prison labor. The US Congress officially permitted the US companies to use prison labor for goods manufacturing through the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) in 1979, which depicts the intention of extending slavery in the country through official means.

The issue of slavery reparation has been raised recently, but this loophole in the 13th constitutional amendment hardly gains the attention of lawmakers.

One school of thought suggests that it inculcates the necessary skills in the labor force to get them back into the national mainstream; however, doing this breaches the concept of freedom of choice.

How are US laws empowering companies to exploit prison labor to maximize their benefit, and how does it perpetuates racism in the country? Let’s see.

13th Amendment of the US Constitution: Blessing for Some, Curse for Many

The passing of the 13th amendment was a landmark achievement in the history of the United States. It serves the purpose of abolishing the institution of slavery, which was sponsoring the forced migration of Blacks from African countries to the US. The amendment states,

 

“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.”

 

The initial part of the amendment, undoubtedly, deserves applause. Unfortunately, however, the latter part in itself promotes modern-day slavery in the country.

This disobeys the prisoners’ rights and forces on them the labor they don’t want to do. 

As this legal loophole continues discrimination against Black people, the calls to fix the wording have also been raised lately.

As the US observed a federal holiday on Juneteenth, Congress tried reviving the “Abolition Amendment.” If passed, it will eliminate the menace of prison labor once and for all.

It is pertinent to mention that not all prison labor qualifies for forced labor. However, it provides possible avenues for the exploitation of the workers.

Even more dangerous possibility of exploitation is the unavailability of legal helps for the detainees.

Just like in the pre-slavery era when slaves had no legal rights, the US prisoners have little to no rights.

Black Americans are likely to be incarcerated more, hence serving more time in prison labor

Black Americans are likely to be incarcerated more, hence serving more time in prison labor

Blacks and Immigrants: People on the Receiving End of the Modern-Day Slavery amid Prison Labor

The US has the largest prison population across the globe, and the majority of it comprises Black people.

This racial profiling is enough to conclude that penal labor is explicitly directed towards the incarcerated Black people.

Black people are not the only ones exploited by this untraditional slavery. The immigrants are also being used badly in the US prisons.

Most of the immigrants are detained in private prisons in the USA. During prior times, 90 percent of the incarcerated population was present in government-owned prisons. Now, almost 70 percent of the detained immigrants are present in private prisons.

These private prisons are the epicenter of violent practices within the jails. Moreover, the owners receive a fixed amount of money to operate these prisons. So they have more than enough reason to minimize their operational costs and increase their profits.

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In a bid to make a lot of money, these private prisons exploit the detained immigrants and push them into a legal loophole trap of prison labor.

Immigrants having no understanding of the working of the system and alienation toward the local laws have no option other than bandwagoning the exploiters.

In the damaged system of capitalism, it provides the private corporations a way to maximize their benefits as well.

When they are unlikely to exploit their employees due to the labor union, social security, and minimum wage laws, they start exploiting prisoners. They extract maximum work out of them with a daily wage as less as one dollar a day.

They have no worries about providing prisoners with clothing, food, or any other social security measures.

 

Final Thoughts

This is the culture of poverty that is responsible for the intergenerational transfer of poverty in the long run.

Black people are widely used in this prison labor, and when they are freed, they fall victim to many diseases due to all the unsanitary practices in their prison years.

They become unable to earn a reasonable amount of money to raise their families afterward.

These discriminations are why Black people try to avoid police, adjusting themselves according to the white gaze, pushing them into yet another racial trauma.

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