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Prison Jobs (3)…

The genesis of prison industry in the U.S. is found in post-Civil War politics.  The ex-slaves, rooted by poverty, became the scapegoats for the South’s humiliating defeat.

By 1877, the Union Army and Freedman’s Bureau had abandoned the South back to the Confederates.

The solution to the post-bellum labor shortage was in part solved by the exception clause to the Constitution’s 13th Amendment (1865), which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime…

A mass of legislation soon spread throughout the South known as the Black Codes, whatever it took to criminalize the black population.  These Codes included the “crimes” of:  mischief, insulting gestures, intoxication, vagrancy, enticement, etc.      There being no prisons, offenders were auctioned off to local farmers and entrepreneurs to work off their fines at hard labor.  Hardly a black family in the South wasn’t affected.  Probably not “official” history in the Texas school system…

In addition to the Black codes, there were segregation laws, political disenfranchisement, and the depiction of blacks as sub-human (Jim Crow).  The Klan completed the circuit of terror.

As prisons came on line, convict leasing became the norm.  In many cases, private entrepreneurs contracted with the states to take their prisoners, pay the states a bounty, and lease the convicts out to hard labor at various enterprises and industries, such as mining, railroads and virgin forest exploitation.

County sheriff’s, hardpressed to provide bodies (at profit), often simply rounded up all the nearby blacks they could get their hands on–including women and children–and had a cooperating Justice of the Peace “convict” them of something or other.

Given media exposés, Congress sought to outlaw the excesses by forbidding the use of federal prisoners—leased to the states—to private leasing, and eventually passing laws against interstate sale of prisoner-made goods.  The states largely dealt with the issue—if at all–by creating their own internal prison industries.

Eventually, Congress created the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP 1930), and Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (UNICOR 1934), in part to address this problem.  Despite the height of the depression, the American labor unions agreed and cooperated.

Modern Slavery

In 1979, Congress created the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), to enact regulation over the use of prisoner industry where it involves the production of products for sale across state lines.

Participating institutions must apply to the US Dept of Justice for certification.  Mandatory requirements include: paying voluntary inmates at comparable local civilian wages and benefits, consultation with local industry and unions to avoid any adverse effect on wages and employment or unfair competition, and environmental compliance.

Congress delegated the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to monitor compliance, as well as ensure that no more than 80% of the inmates’ salary is deducted for taxes, room & board, family support, and a victim compensation fund.

Robert Sloan spent 11 yrs in the Florida prison system, before being paroled.  Back in 1981, he had gone into a Florida jewelry store disguised as an IRS agent with a fraudulent search & seizure warrant, walking out with the stock.

Clever Bob was given a 30-yr prison sentence for his entrepreneurial audacity.  Most of his prison time was spent working in a PIECP-sanctioned industry, PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises), as an architectural draftsman.

Upon release from prison, Sloan created his own niche working with state and federal authorities to expose corruption, bring the industry into compliance with oversight, and reduce the loss of free-world jobs.

He  helped bring about the resignation, conviction and imprisonment of some industry offenders.  Today, he is a Prison Industry Consultant and expert at how it all functions.

What went wrong?  Suffice to say that when prison industry staff and corporate executives are given the keys to the vault, sooner or later they’re going to be far more concerned with profit than the training and rehabilitation of prisoners—their ostensible mission.

In 1995, the BJA outsourced their Congressional compliance mandate to the National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA).  In classic symbiosis between the gov’t and the corporate world, NCIA in turn (themselves comprised of prison and private industry reps) elects the board members to PIECP from NCIA ranks!

The fox was in charge of the hen house.  Oh, kind of like putting a Wall Street profiteer in charge of the US Treasury…

The bottom line?  Rampant corruption.  Lost free-world jobs and income.  Prisoners receiving minimum wages, if that, under pretty-much-forever “training” exceptions.  But, Hey!  They’re on a roll.  Why stop there?

Prison privatization is now a large part of this whole enterprise.  The prisoners themselves become the product/commodity as private industry (CCA & the GEO Group for example) vie for federal contracts.

Running short there, they’re picking up further $millions by detaining undocumented immigrants en masse (over 400,000 at last count) under state and federal contracts.

And the relationship with legislators and laws feeding this profiteering frenzy?  We’ll be following this story.  The Prison Legal News also covers much of this and related stories.  Again, feel free to access this and more related information at Robert Sloan’s weblog.

               Dr. Publico

Category: BlackCodes, SloanRobert
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