Prisoners earning 23 cents an hour in U.S. federal prisons are manufacturing high-tech electronic components for Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles, and other guided missile systems. We all may think that slavery has ended, but we soon forget about the prison system. Other prison produced materials include night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio communication devices, light systems, land mine sweepers, and battleship anti-air craft guns.
Prison labor offers no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding. Prisoners even recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles. The prison system has quickly become and outsourcing corporation similar to cheaper labor markets overseas.
This has created cheaper labor and also some very unsafe conditions for inmates. Prisoners worked covered in dust, with out safety equipment, protective gear, air filtration or masks. The toxic dust that they where around caused serious injury like blood clots and cancer.
Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.
The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit. For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.
The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. imprisons more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned in the world.
There are more than 2.3 million prisoners in federal, state and local prisons in the U.S. Twice as many people are under probation and parole. Many tens of thousands of other prisoners include undocumented immigrants facing deportation, prisoners awaiting sentencing and youthful offenders in categories considered reform or detention.
The racism that pervades every aspect of life in capitalist society — from jobs, income and housing to education and opportunity — is most brutally reflected by who is caught up in the U.S. prison system.
More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color. Seventy percent of those being sentenced under the three strikes law in California — which requires mandatory sentences of 25 years to life after three felony convictions — are people of color.
Title: The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U. S. Prisons
Source: Workers World, June 6, 2011
Author: Sara Flounders
Student: Leta Frolli, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator: Sheila Katz, Sonoma State University