US Prisoner Labor Makes Billions of Dollars, But They Get ‘Cents’

US Prisoner Labor Makes Billions of Dollars, But They Get ‘Cents’

Montrell Carmouche, who sells trips to Mexico, brags about its “blonde sandy beaches and coral reefs” over the phone, but is careful not to say he’s never set foot there. And with good reason: he is in prison in the USA.

His story and handout, a commission of six dollars per sale, are featured in a report on the work of America’s inmates released Wednesday by the powerful civil rights organization ACLU and the University of Chicago.

Inmates “receive pennies for their work, which is often performed in dangerous conditions while bringing in billions of dollars to the states and federal government,” according to ACLU researcher Jennifer Turner, lead author of the study.

The incarceration rate in the United States is among the highest in the world, with more than 1.2 million people in federal or state prisons.

Two-thirds of them have jobs behind bars and produce more than $11 billion worth of goods and services a year, according to this report, Captive Labor: The Exploitation of Incarcerated Workers, which includes research, official documents, and interviews with detainees compiles.

The vast majority (more than 80%) are employed to keep their prison running as cleaners, cooks, or even electricians or plumbers for between $0 and $1.24 an hour.

In 2004, a low estimate of the profits generated from their work put the figure at $9 billion, the report’s authors recall.

“These jobs are of no use to us, but they are beneficial to the prison system,” said Latashia Millender, a prisoner in Illinois, quoted in the document. “I make $450 a year, that’s a civilian’s salary for a week! ยป

license plates

About 50,000 prisoners provide goods and services that are sold to other government agencies, worth $2.09 billion in 2021, according to the National Association of Prison Industries. They can wash sheets for hospitals, make uniforms for officials, etc.

Again, the wages are symbolic: in Oregon, for example, the vehicle licensing agency pays $4 to $6 a day to inmates who make license plates, versus $80 a day for freelancers.

After all, fewer than 5,000 prisoners, including Montrell Carmouche, work for private companies whose customers often do not know the origin of the products. These jobs, which pay a little better, are in high demand. However, most winnings are confiscated by the authorities, particularly to recover their legal fees.

Regardless of the task, the authors of the report emphasize that the prisoners have little or no training for the tasks assigned to them, that they generally cannot refuse them and do not have the equipment necessary for their safety.

“American prisons violate basic rights to life and dignity,” concludes Claudia Flores from the University of Chicago, co-author of the study, and recommends a whole range of reforms, including the introduction of a minimum wage.

At the request of AFP, the Federal Office for Corrections had not responded on Wednesday evening.