Thursday, September 04, 2008

What Do U.S. Prisoners Make For Below Minimum Wage?

Guess What? It's hard to decriminalize drug possession and our country's scandalously high incarceration rate when it's supplying a cheap labor force for corporations operating in the U.S. — especially when those corporations fund lobbyists, think tanks and university grants. What ever happened to those Halcyon days when all prisoners had to make were shivs and Pruno, clocks out of popsicle sticks and spit-Papier-mâché chessboards?

Forget about illegal immigrations, blue-collar America. This is where you( and you)r jobs are going:

Tens of thousands of US inmates are paid from pennies to minimum wage—minus fines and victim compensation—for everything from grunt work to firefighting to specialized labor. Here's a sampling of what they make, and for whom.

Eating in: Each month, California inmates process more than 680,000 pounds of beef, 400,000 pounds of chicken products, 450,000 gallons of milk, 280,000 loaves of bread, and 2.9 million eggs (from 160,000 inmate-raised hens). Starbucks subcontractor Signature Packaging Solutions has hired Washington prisoners to package holiday coffees (as well as Nintendo Game Boys). Confronted by a reporter in 2001, a Starbucks rep called the setup "entirely consistent with our mission statement."

Around the Big House: Texas inmates produce brooms and brushes, bedding and mattresses, toilets, sinks, showers, and bullwhips. Bullwhips?

Windows dressing: In the mid-1990s, Washington prisoners shrink-wrapped software and up to 20,000 Microsoft mouses for subcontractor Exmark (other reported clients: Costco and JanSport). "We don't see this as a negative," a Microsoft spokesman said at the time. Dell used federal prisoners for PC recycling in 2003, but stopped after a watchdog group warned that it might expose inmates to toxins.

[via Mother Jones]

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