The Most Revolutionary Act

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The Prison Industrial Complex – Part II

Posted By on November 6, 2010

As I stressed in my November 3rd blog, it’s no longer politics and fear of violent crime that are driving America’s phenomenal incarceration rate – now the highest in the world. Statistics show that violent and property crime has been declining steadily since 1990 and that nearly half (one million) US prisoners, many of whom are mentally ill, are in the slammer for non-violent offenses.

The main drivers of incarceration in the US are economic – a lot of powerful people and corporations are getting rich off of locking Americans of – and they spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to federal and state lawmakers. Imprisoning people is now a multibillion industry with its own trade shows, conventions, mail order catalogues and direct marketing.

I encourage people to check out Robert Sloan’s excellent blog regarding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate lobby group responsible for helping major corporate players to enrich themselves (building private prisons and contracting for dirt cheap prison labor are just two examples) from the public trough at taxpayer expense. Sloan documents some of ALEC’s more questionable activities much more clearly than I can here.

For people wanting to do something to end this atrocity, I strongly suggest they contact Grassroots Leadership at, which is aggressively organizing to end prison privatization.

Who’s Making Big Bucks Off Prison Privatization

From my cursory survey of Internet sources, I have identified at least six places along the food chain where people are turning over profits (at taxpayer expense) in the booming prison business (see

  1. The Wall Street investment banks who issue the bonds to finance the building of state and local prisons (I won’t list them here. Just Google the banks who got TARP bail-outs.  As usual, Goldman Sachs is at the top of the list).
  2. The private companies who run prisons – Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut are the largest, but there are now 18 altogether (CCA also operates our federal immigration detention facilities and helped write Arizona’s controversial immigration law).
  3. Depressed rural communities – facing a decline (thanks to NAFTA and GAT which made it easier to move local companies overseas) in traditional sources of revenue, such as mining, dairy farming and manufacturing.
  4. Private companies that provide food services, health care, and assorted security paraphernalia to prisons.
  5. Bed brokers who, in Texas, earn $2.50 – 5.50 per man-day (for the duration of a prisoner’s sentence) by recruiting prisoners from out of state.
  6. Major corporations, the best known being BP, Dell, TWA, Compaq, J.C. Penny, Best Western Hotels, Honda, Chevron, IBM, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, and Boeing, who save on labor costs by employing cheap prison labor (0 to $1.50 per hour – the average is 40 cents) – which turns out to be far cheaper than outsourcing overseas – especially with rising labor costs in economic boom countries like India and China.

Local New Orleans residents who have been put out of work due to the mass Gulf oil spill are extremely unhappy about BP using prison labor in the clean-up.

Also if you recently made a credit card reservation at TWA or Best Western Hotels, it was very likely a prisoner who took your credit card details. Using prisoners for call centers and telemarketing is especially popular.

Call Center Arizona State Prison

Call Center Arizona State Prison

Perryville Prison Call Center (Arizona)

Perryville Prison Call Center (Arizona)

Call Center Snake River Correctional Institution (Oregon)

Call Center Snake River Correctional Institution (Oregon)


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