Slave labor means big bucks for U.S. corporations


There are approximately 2 million people behind bars in the United States -- more than three times the number of prisoners in 1980. The United States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world. In fact, in the last 20 years California has constructed 21 new prisons while in the same amount of time, it has built only one new university. That statistic is even more astounding when we think about the fact that it took California almost 150 years to build its first 12 prisons. Another five new prisons are under construction and plans are in the works to build another 10.


Federal safety and health standards do not protect prison labor, nor do the National Labor Relations Board policies. The corporations do not even have to pay minimum wage. In California, inmates who work for the Prison Industrial Authority earn wages between 30 and 95 cents per hour before required deductions for restitutions and fines.


Prisons are being filled largely with the poor, the mentally ill, people of color, drug addicts and many combinations of these characteristics. They are not reserved for violent people who are extremely dangerous to society.


In fact, of the nearly 2 million prisoners, about 150,000 are armed robbers, 125,000 are murderers and 100,000 are sex offenders. Prisons are certainly not filled with corporate criminals who make up only 1 percent of our nation's prisons.


Eighty-five percent of those sentenced under the law in California faced prison for a nonviolent offense. Two years after the law went into effect, there were twice as many people imprisoned under the three-strikes law for possession of marijuana as for murder, rape and kidnapping combined. More than 80 percent of those sentenced under the three-strikes law are African-American and Latino.




By Michael Schwartz Daily Bruin, U. California-Los Angeles