Below the surface, living with lupus can mean days spent in bed, missed appointments, and alternate days when we seem “fine.” There’s so much more to lupus than meets the eye. We know that lupus comes with hundreds of possible combinations of symptoms, many of which appear invisible to outsiders. Most people don’t see the many symptoms we experience.
On MyLupusTeam.com, the social network and online support group for people living with lupus, members discuss the chronic nature of the disease and its hidden symptoms. We chose the image of an iceberg to represent lupus symptoms because the life-impacting implications of a lupus diagnosis aren’t obvious on the surface. Please share to spread lupus awareness!
In this section of Isaiah, the Israelites have returned from exile in Babylonia. The prophet is charged with raising up those who had been dispersed as well as those who had been allowed to return. But his mission was not to end there, he was to stand as a “light to the nations” to show God’s goodness and power. Jesus tells us in the gospel that we too must be lights to the nations. How is this to be done? It begins in our homes where we witness the love of God to our families. If our family members cannot see Christ’s love in us, who will see it? I am not talking about a piety that makes others uncomfortable, but a sincere faith that shines forth in good times and bad and reaches out to those in need. It doesn’t mean that we need to talk about our beliefs to everyone we meet either. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach always, and if necessary, use words.” Although he would probably be the first to question that he said it, he would certainly agree with it in principle. When asked why they became a Christian, most people answer that they wanted the qualities that they saw in other Christians. They have met Jesus in the words and actions of others. They see the difference in the way these Christians treat other people. They meet love in person and then they meet the God who inspires it. They see their “light.” Jesus tells us not to hide our light under a bushel, but to stand proud in our faith. Are we up to the challenge to let others see our light? Sometimes we make God’s word more difficult than it needs to be. God wants us to understand His Word, so He makes the most important things easy to reach. Forgiveness. Grace. Hope. Love. Righteousness. With every reading, He reminds us that these things are on our hearts, ready for us to use at all times and in all places. Thank you, Lord, for Your word. Thank you for revealing the truth of Your holiness. Help me to hold close to Your word just as You hold close to me, so that I may live in obedience. If I stray from Your path, use Your word to bring me near to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prison Labor: Three Strikes and You’re Hired Prisoners do a great deal of work, especially in producing equipment for US military contractors. All prison working conditions are often unsafe and that prisoners are frequently coerced into working. I will argue that prison labor is forced labor and slavery and that reform is needed.
As you read, consider the following questions: 1. What is UNICOR, according to the author? 2. What are economic incentives for corporations to use prison labor? #. How many prisoners are there in the United States? First, two facts: I have a son who proudly served in the United States Army and was over seas. The United States imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world. What’s the connection? Prisoners. Not prisoners of war but the people locked up in our own domestic prisons and jails – and, more specifically, their labor. Surprised? I sure was.
Prison Labor is Way More than making License Plates Whenever I think about prison labor, the first thing that comes to mind is license plates. Turns out, that prison labor is a long away from just printing license plates and lines. While these industries aew still part of the work in our prisons and jails they are not the big breadwinner. The industry that takes the cake when it comes to prison labor is military supplies. It is estimated that the federal prison industry produces 100% of the military helmets, ID tags, bulletbroof vests, shirts, bags and pants. And what company is there to oversee production of these items? UNICOR! UNICOR was previously known as the Federal Prison Industries, which is a non-profit organization, and the 39th largest US contractor. UNICOR operates 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries and the Department of Defense is one of their largest contracts. In 2001, UNICOR sales were $583.5 milliom – about $388 million of which was DOD, or 66.5% of all business.
Prison Labor Offers “Economic Incentives” for Corporations The prisoners wages are only $0.23 an hour and no unions, safety regulations, pension, Soical Security, sick leave nor overtime, prisoners are made to work under poor conditions and prison labor is growing and economically competitive sector. And the United States government is allowing this to happen. Prison labor is competitive with sweatshop labor prices and, since production is domestic, incurs lower shipping coasts. Plus, overhead is pretty much paid for by the US taxpayers! With all these economic incentives, it’s no surprise that 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations who bring their operations inside the prison walls. While UNICOR is among the leaders in using prison labor, other companies are taking advantage of the contract opportunities, including Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Mpotorola, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Compaq, IBM, Boeing, AT&T, Texas Instrumemts, Revlon, Macy’s, Target, Nortel, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Honeywell, Pierre Carin, 3com, and Lucent Technologies, among others.
The One Place Where Slavery is Still Legal in the 13th Amendment in the USAtrocious working conditions: As mentioned above, there are no workers’ right/protection. All the business are looking to cut costs and maximizing the porfit. They do that by promotting human trafficking of our prisoners. I would like to ask what is the human cost of this co-called “smart investment?” In this case, the situation is clear: Prison labor and rape is the new slave labor. This is true under the 13th Amendment is still legal in prisons. There are clear parallels between the new and old: with toxic materials and are not given the proper protective clothing. Workdays often run past eight hours, with no breaks. Coercion: Prisoners frequently lose “good-time” and canteen privileges if they refuse to work. Georgia had one of hte largest inmate protests in US history after prisoners were forced to work seven days in a row without pay and were beaten if they did not comply. Exporting of Inmates: With the high incarceration rate in the US and overcrowding considered cruel and unusual punishment, the private prison industry has flurished, offering states and counties “rent-a-cell” services, in which the county makes $1.50 per bed. That is a lie. The county jails make over $100 per bed. Racial and Sex Offenders Inequality: The US has more than 2.3 million prisoners. People of color make up just 30% of total US population, but account for 60% of those locked up. There are now more black men and sex offenders, parole or probation than there were enslaved in the 1850s.
Prisons in Service to Profit, Not Public Safety The reality in the US today is that prison is not for rehabilitation, it is for profit. With that kind of mentality, we are living up to our nickname of the United States of Incarceration. The idea of working while in prison could be a tool for rehabilitation and, ultimately, greater public safety, but as usual the execution of the idea is most important. Humans have rights and prisoners are human, therefore, prisoners have rights and those rights need to be implemented and protected. Yes it is an uphill battle. Working for the rights of prisoners is the right thing to do. More people are arrested because law enforcement lie and judges listen to those lies for a bigger pay day.
Prison Labor and Union Busting What’s so attractive about using prison labor is precisely that it undoes everything that union members – and their parents and grandparents before them – have fought so hard to achieve. At times, prisoners have been used directly as a strike-breaking workforce; TWA’s [Trans World Airlines’] reservations system was set up during a flight attendant strike, and according to the union involved, the prisoner program was a significant part of the company’s strategy to undermine the strike. In other cases, prisons have allowed employers to avoid unions even in well-organized industries; thus, the owners of an Arizona slaughterhouse shut down their unionized operation only to reopen in a joint venture with the state’s Department of Correction. Even where it is not directly related tom anti-union strategies, however, prison labor provides employers a means of avoiding or undoing virtually all of the gains won by working people over the past hundred years – creating islands of time in which, in terms of labor relations, it’s still the late nineteenth century. Prison labor is, of course, much cheaper than free labor for employers. In Ohio, for example, a Honda supplier paid auto workers $2.00 an hour for the same work that union workers got paid $50 to $100 an hour for the same work. Prisoners sometimes worked longer hours than union workers because the unions only pay for so many hours no matter how much a union worker, works.
Today is “Bill of Rights Day” – commemorating ratification on Dec. 15, 1791.
But what the government-run schools – and supporters of the monster state – “teach” about the Bill of Rights has almost nothing to do with the foundational principles which motivated the people who supported – and demanded it.
They want us to focus on inane trivia – and they definitely present things as if the Bill of Rights “granted” our rights, or were meant to create a nationwide liberty enforcement squad in the federal government.
No, it was – you guessed it – about the principles behind what was ratified as the 10th Amendment. Drawing a line in the sand, as Samuel Adams put it, “between the federal Powers vested in Congress, and the sovereign Authority belonging to the several States.”
Richard Henry Lee – who on Sept 27, 1787 in the Confederation Congress proposed adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution drafted by the Philadelphia Convention – BEFORE sending it to the states for ratification, agreed. He said that drawing that clear line between expressly delegated power – and those reserved is “the great use of a bill of rights.”
The same thing happened in a number of state ratification documents, starting with Massachusetts, then South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia – and New York.
In early 1788, ratification of the Constitution was almost certain to fail in Massachusetts – home of Samuel and John Adams, Theophilus Parsons, John Hancock – and so many others. A loss there – Federalists understood – would send them reeling in states where it was expected to be a very close call at best – like New York and Virginia. In other words, the entire proposal was close to being doomed.
But – as advised by Richard Henry Lee months earlier, Samuel Adams and John Hancock went along with a plan to ratify, but only with the option of including recommended amendments as well. On Feb 6, 1788 – they did just that, and the very first recommended amendment from the Sons of Liberty will probably look familiar to any reader of the Tenth Amendment Center:
First. That it be explicitly declared, that all powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several states, to be by them exercised.
South Carolina followed their lead with this:
This Convention doth also declare that no Section or paragraph of the said Constitution warrants a Construction that the states do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them and vested in the General Government of the Union.
And on June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire sealed the deal on ratification by also including as their first recommended amendment the same precursor to the 10th Amendment from Massachusetts.
But even after New York and Virginia followed with similar proposals, Federalists in the First Congress stonewalled – and did everything they could to prevent amendments from being considered and sent to the states for ratification.
Samuel Adams, however, didn’t let up – pushing friends like Elbridge Gerry and Richard Henry Lee to get the Bill of Rights done. To Adams, adding these amendments was solely about having a “a Line drawn as clearly as may be, between the federal Powers vested in Congress and the distinct Sovereignty of the several States.”
James Madison – who was initially opposed to including a Bill of Rights – and even voted against Richard Henry Lee’s proposal in the Confederation Congress, slowly came on board – maybe for just political strategy. But his dogged persistence pushed it through the congress.
With that history in mind, it makes even more sense why Thomas Jefferson, on Feb 15, 1791 – 10 months to the day before ratification – made this essential point about the structure of the constitution:
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ” all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.”
Why don’t they teach this history? We can only guess, but I personally think it has plenty to do with the fact that the bill of rights wasn’t about granting rights to people – or having a central government to protect us – but instead – it was about opposition to centralized power.Please do check out this episode of the Path to Liberty Podcast for a deeper dive into this essential history. There, you’ll find both video and audio versions of the show – and if you prefer reading – there’s a bunch of original source documents so you can read and learn more – in context – on your own time.
This is the kind of information we work to get out to more and more people every single day of the year. Nothing – absolutely nothing – helps us roll up our sleeves and get the job done more than the financial faith and support of our members.
The U.S. Civil War, which was fought to abolish slavery, was not really that long ago. My father tells the story of visiting the Higginsville home for Civil War veterans near his childhood home in Missouri. The Missouri River was a dividing line between North and South, and so when the war was finally over, many families had veterans — and casualties — on both sides. My father remembers watching two old soldiers, one Union, one Confederate, each dressed up in the remnants of their uniforms, having an argument that ended up with one attacking the other with a pair of crutches. Hearing this as a little girl was the first time the Civil War seemed real to me. It is a vivid reminder of the close links that bind this country to its history of slavery, which still haunts our national conscience.
Higginsville Confederates Veterans Home, courtesy of Missouri State Parks
As I recently discovered, we maintain what can be only be called legalized slavery today — the utilization of prison labour for public and private profit. Many, if not most, of these inmates are themselves the descendants of slaves. And they are making fewer license plates and more defense electronics and oil spill cleanups. Today prison labor is a multibillion-dollar business in the U.S. We also have the highest prison population in the world. Are economic incentives at the heart of our sky-high incarceration rates?
History can offer us a guide to answer this question. In Britain, slavery was abolished in 1833, earlier than in the U.S. In spite of its economic lure, it was outlawed, at least in part, because of the persuasive voices of inspired political leaders and artists. The painting The Slave Ship, a J.M.W. Turner masterpiece, depicts the famous episode of the British ship the Zong in 1781. One hundred thirty-two African slaves headed for sale in the United States were deliberately thrown overboard and perished mid-sea, due to a lack of drinking water on board. In his new book, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery, Professor James Walvin concludes that this event, and the public outcry against it, was the turning point that resulted in the end of the slave trade in Britain. The U.S. was not so lucky, or perhaps, the entrenched interests were too deep, and so a much bloodier battle that ended 600,000 lives ensued, and it took an additional 30 years to abolish slavery.
It is worthwhile to study this history, and to hold its lessons close, because slavery remains in other forms, if not by name, in the 21st century. Mauritania still has a slave population that is some 18 percent of its population, about a half a million people — although it is technically illegal. The poverty and harshness of the Western Sahara and lack of economic alternatives make it a difficult practice to eradicate. We might expect this in the Third World, but we have versions of it in the U.S. Beyond the plight of the working poor, in the U.S. the practice of involuntary labor continues in our prisons, without much public scrutiny. This practice has evolved since the Civil War, particularly in the South, for historical reasons. Former slaves were incarcerated on minor or fabricated charges for extended periods of time so they could work as inmate labourers for the profit of the state and its contractors.
“In the nineteenth century, Texas leased its penitentiary (which survives today as the Huntsville “Walls” unit) to private contractors. For a few dollars per month per convict, the contractors were allowed to sublease their charges to farmers, tanners, and other businessmen. It was not long before the inmates began to appear in poor clothing and without shoes. Worked mercilessly, most convicts died within seven years of their incarceration. Escapes and escape attempts were frequent. Conditions were so horrid that some inmates were driven to suicide while other maimed themselves to get out of work or as a pathetic form of protest.” – John DiIulio, Jr.The Duty to Govern, 1990 Eventually, the prisoner-for-lease system became such a scandal that it was outlawed 100 years ago. But in the 1980s, conditions were ripe for reversion. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery contains a loophole that allows the exploitation of prison labor:
Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Today, the U.S. prison system delivers profits to both government corporations and private enterprises in several ways: 1) Through the use of inmate labor to produce goods and services in federal and state prisons 2) Through the contracting of this labor to private companies at below-market wages and 3) By privatization of the prisons and detainment centers themselves. Given these perverse incentives to maintain a high inmate population, is it any wonder that the number of prisoners and the length of their sentences — Americans comprise 5 percent of the world’s total population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population — have skyrocketed since privatization began in 1984?
Number of inmates. 1920 to 2006. (absolute numbers) General U.S. population grew only 2.8 times in the same period, but the number of inmates increased more than 20 times.
One might ask if this population surge could be due to a sudden increase in violent crime in America. A much smaller percentage of prisoners than one would imagine have histories of violence. Just 3 percent of those in Federal prisons, and a third of those in state prisons, have been convicted of violent crimes. A majority of those in city and county prisons are merely awaiting trial and cannot make bail. As any policeman will tell you, much criminality would be eliminated if drug laws were changed. Moreover, of the total prison population, it is estimated that 16 percent are suffering from mental illness, according to Vicky Pelaez in Global Research in Canada. And did I mention, the vast majority are black males?
What is the failure of our society that has led to the forced segregation from society of so many of our citizens, many of whom the descendants of slaves, on this scale? In 1860, the U.S. had 4 million slaves. Now, according to Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (Jan. 30, 2012):
Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America — more than six million — than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.
America has now created its own Gulag and it makes much more than just license plates. Of the 2.3 million prisoners now being held, more than 100,000 work in federal and state prison industry programs. This doesn’t mean the usual cooking, cleaning and peeling potatoes, but work that produces products for sale — about $2.4 billion dollars annually and has its own trade shows. UNICOR, the trade name of the government-owned Federal Prison Industries, cites the following products on its website:
The government, particularly the Department of Defense, is the biggest customer for the federal prison labor. Most military clothing, furniture, and helmets are made by Federal inmates. It is very likely that they made the furniture at your local post office. Calling directory assistance? You might well be talking to a felon. Clearly, UNICOR has expanded beyond clothing and furniture. Look at just one category, electro-optical assemblies:
Our electro-optical and circuit board assemblies, and electrical connectors are used around the world and have broad applications in missile guidance, tactical combat and emergency communications, radar, and avionic and submarine control systems. UNICOR/FPI is highly proficient in electrical and fiber optic cable convergence technology, which is used in applications requiring faster transmission of signals over longer distance and with less weight. Our electro-optical cable assemblies are used in avionic and missile controls, submarine navigation, and tactical observation and targeting systems in fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and other armored vehicles.
Our expertise in manufacturing electro-optical assemblies is proven in numerous programs, such as the Bradley eye-safe laser rangefinder and the Patriot missile guidance system. We are talking guided missile components here! UNICOR had revenues of about $900 million in fiscal year 2011, of which 7 percent went to pay inmates. According to my estimates based on their annual report, this averages $3,000 per inmate, at least half of which must be used for fines, victim restitution and family support. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year (there are no holidays in prison) that would amount to pay of about 75 cents per hour, which “may be spent in the prison commissaries,” according to the UNICOR annual report. This puts the federal prison worker on par with his Chinese counterpart. No wonder this labor group is attractive to industry: no unions, OHSA, health care or retirement funds to fret about. As UNICOR boasts on its website: “All the benefits of domestic outsourcing at offshore prices. It’s the best kept secret in outsourcing!” Actually, it is even better — although we will not accept imports from Chinese laogai, or prison factories, there is no U.S. law that prevents export of our prison labor products.
Federal prison workers, however, are the envy of state inmates, some of whom earn nothing for 60-plus-hour weeks. Texas and Georgia offer no compensation at all. (It is no surprise that these states have highly privatized prison industries as well.) In The Nation, Abe Louise Young writes about the use of Louisiana state prison labor to clean up the toxic waste that resulted from the BP oil spill:
Work release inmates are required to work for up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes averaging seventy-two hours per week. These are long hours for performing what may arguably be the most toxic job in America. Although the dangers of mixed oil and dispersant exposure are largely unknown, the chemicals in crude oil can damage every system in the body, as well as cell structures and DNA.
Inmates can’t pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned “good time.” The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: “If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of.” This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer. This kind of cooperation is enabled by PIE (Prison Industry Enhancement), a program run by the Department of Justice, which allows both UNICOR at the Federal level and state prisons to partner with private enterprise. It is not just the government prisons that have perverse incentives for maintaining high prison populations. It is the very business of warehousing human beings which was privatized in the mid-80s that is to me the most disturbing. Here is a map of private prisons in Texas created by the website Texas Prison Bid’ness:
It just seems to me that judicial punishment is one of those functions that is uniquely the business of the state, and that somehow it is immoral for anyone to profit from this. In fact, two big players, CCA and GEO, weren’t doing all that well until 9/11. Since that time, they have also been building immigration detention centers at a very fast pace. No secret that privatization has therefore had the greatest momentum in the border states, including Vermont. It is hard to forget the awful “Cash for Kids” debacle in which two judges (now themselves recently sentenced to prison) took kickbacks for sending children to for-profit juvenile detention centers. Dave Reutter in Prison Legal News quotes Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research: “Privatization just doesn’t work” he stated. “It’s a way for politicians to throw business to their friends. “
A compelling economic argument against prison labor is that it competes unfairly with free labor. Diane Cardwell writes in the New York Times that UNICOR is now getting into production of solar panels and other forms of alternative energy. “This is a threat to not just established industries; it’s a threat to emerging industries,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who is the lead sponsor of the proposed overhaul legislation. “If China did this — having their prisoners work at subpar wages in prisons — we would be screaming bloody murder. “There is now pending legislation to create a wage floor for prison inmates, as well as require basic safety standards. The discussion is not just about protecting inmates. In an era of high unemployment, jobs matter. Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina has said, “It is simply wrong for the U.S. government to administer a military procurement policy that favors giving jobs to felons over law-abiding Americans. That is especially true during these difficult economic times.” There is also concern about quality control for defense-related production. Reportedly, 42 percent of UNICOR’s orders overall were delivered late.
What are the benefits to society of prison labor? I have read articles that it helps and doesn’t help recidivism. That there are better ways to prepare inmates for life after jail, such as education, training, and addiction counseling. What is the overall impact on the economy? According to Jeffrey Kling and Alan Krueger of Princeton University and NBER, 100 percent utilization of prison inmate labor would result in a rather small economic benefit — 0.2 percent of GDP at most. Because this is mostly unskilled labor it could, in fact, reduce the wages of high school dropouts in the private workforce by 5 percent — which would increase the overall rate of poverty. (Note, however, that some estimates suggest that people with wages under $13,000 spend 9 percent of their income on buying lottery tickets.)
Kling and Krueger conclude:
In concert with privatization, we suggest that inmate workers be covered by all relevant labor legislation that applies to private sector firms: including the right to form a union, fair labor standards, and workplace safety regulations.
That is the very minimum that must be done. We need to do some national soul-searching about all of the reasons we have so many people in jail. But it is an election year — and felons don’t vote — so the probability is high that nothing will be done. But let’s begin the discussion. As I finish this article, by weird coincidence, police cars are flashing their lights outside my house. A young man, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, crashed into the gate of our driveway as he was pursued by an unmarked car for speeding. I saw him as he was led away in handcuffs, in tears. I hope his parents have a very good lawyer.
As Adam Gopkin reminds us, “mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.” The racialization of this process, popularized by author Michelle Alexander as The New Jim Crow, has meant that African Americans in the U.S. now have more than triple the incarceration rate of Blacks in South Africa at the peak of apartheid. In the haste to impart some rationality to all this, many activists and analysts have been quick to point to corporations as the sole culprits behind the prison-industrial- complex (PIC). An important component of this perspective is the notion of prisons as “slave labor camps”. In this scenario a sea of multinational corporations super-exploit hundreds of thousands of contract prison laborers to heartlessly augment their bottom lines. Late last year researchers Steven Fraser and Joshua Freeman took up this point in a study which they presented in a CounterPunch article, arguing that “penitentiaries have become a niche market for such work. The privatization of prisons in recent years has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and right-less to complain.”
Their perspective has resonated with a number of news services, anti-mass incarceration blogsters and activists. For example, a recent report from Russian news service RT claimed that prisons are “becoming America’s own Chinese style manufacturing line”. Huffington Post picked up the story, quoting Fraser and Freeman:
“All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.” The HuffPost went on to name Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, Starbucks and Walmart as major participants in what they called a “competitive spiral” to capture prison labor at the lowest possible wage levels. Vicky Pelaez, writing for Global Research earlier this year called prison industry a “new form of slavery” identifying more than twenty corporations involved in contract arrangements. Her list included IBM, Pierre Cardin, Target and Hewlett Packard. She concluded that, “thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets.” As appealing as these scenarios are to our sense of moral outrage and the role of multinational corporations as the villains of our era, such assertions about prison labor are off the mark. I spent six and a half years in Federal and state prisons at high, medium and low security levels. In all these institutions, very few people, if any, were under contract to private corporations. My memories of prison yards feature hundreds and hundreds of men trying to pump some meaning into their life with exercise routines, academic study, compulsive sports betting, religious devotion, and a number of creative and entrepreneurial “hustles.” But being under the thumb of Bill Gates or entering a Nike sweatshop was just about the farthest thing from our warehoused reality.
Statistics bear my memories out. Virtually all private sector prison labor is regulated under the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). Any prison wanting to publicly markets goods worth more than $10,000 must register with PIECP. The PIECP statistical report for the first quarter of 2012 showed 4,675 incarcerated people employed in prison or jail PIECP programs, a miniscule portion of the nation’s more than two million behind bars. Likely the largest single user of contract prison labor is Federal Prison Industries, which handles such arrangements for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Of the nearly 220,000 people housed in BOP facilities, just 13,369, representing approximately 8% of the work eligible “inmates” were employed as of September 30, 2012. However, the overwhelming majority of this production was for government departments like Defense and Homeland Security, rather than private corporations. There is an economic rationality to why prison labor is so infrequently used. While incarcerated people may constitute a captive workforce, in the era of mass incarceration security trumps all other institutional needs, including production deadlines. A fight on the yard, a surprise cell search, even a missing tool can occasion a lockdown where all activities, including work assignments come to a halt for hour, days, or, in some cases even weeks or months. Multinational corporations accustomed to just in time production systems and flexible working hours don’t respond well to this type of rigidity. Portraying our prisons as slave labor camps satisfies a certain emotional appeal, but hunting down multinationals that are extracting superprofits from the incarcerated diverts us from the crucial labor issues at the heart of mass incarceration. Those behind bars constitute a displaced and discarded labor force, marginalized from mainstream employment on the streets by deindustrialization in their communities and the gutting of urban education in poor communities of color. More than half of all Black men without a high-school diploma will go to prison at some time in their lives. The school to prison pipeline is far more of a reality than slave labor camps. Plus, the shift of the prison system’s emphasis from rehabilitation to punishment in the last three decades has blocked opportunities for people to upgrade skills and education while incarcerated. As the nuns used to tell me in grade school: “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop and idle hands are the devil’s tools.” The brains behind our prison system clearly had the devil’s welfare in mind when they reoriented our institutions away from rehabilitation into warehousing millions of people while stripping away their opportunities for personal and collective development. As a result purposelessness and excruciating boredom, not overwork, are the dominant features of most prison yards. For those trying to put an end to mass incarceration, framing the labor issues of the prison industrial complex in this way takes us down a very different road than upgrading the conditions of the minute numbers behind bars who are under corporate contracts (or as some unions are want to do-portraying prison laborers as scabs who undermine hard won working class gains). The chief labor concerns about mass incarceration are linked to broader inequalities in the economy as a whole, particularly the lack of employment for poor youth of color and the proliferation of low wage jobs with no benefits. Employment creation and the restoration of much needed state provided social services like substance abuse or mental health treatment are the measures that will keep people on the streets. Forget about minimum wages for the mythical millions working for Microsoft in Leavenworth and Attica. But the labor aspect of mass incarceration doesn’t end there. People with a felony conviction carry a stigma, a brand often accompanied by exclusion from the labor market. Michelle Alexander calls “felon” the new “N” word. Indeed in the job world, those of us with felony convictions face a number of unique barriers. The most well-known is “the box”-that question on employment applications which asks about criminal background. Eleven states and more than 40 cities and counties have outlawed the box on employment applications. Supporters of “ban the box” argue that questions about previous convictions amount to a form of racial discrimination since such a disproportionate number of those with felony convictions are African-American and Latino. Advancing these Ban the Box campaigns will have a far more important impact on incarcerated people as workers than pressing for higher wages for those under contract to big companies inside. However, even without the box, the rights of the formerly incarcerated in the labor market remain heavily restricted. Many professions, trades and service occupations which require certification, bar or limit the accreditation of people with felony convictions. For example, a study by the Mayor of Chicago’s office found that of 98 Illinois state statutes regarding professional licensing, 57 contained restrictions for applicants with a criminal history, impacting over 65 professions and occupations. In some instances, even people applying for licenses to become barbers or cosmetologists face legal impediments. Those with felony convictions face further hurdles when trying to access state assistance to tide them over during times of unemployment. In most states, those with drug convictions are banned from access to SNAP (food stamps) for life. Many local public housing authorities bar people with felony convictions even if their parents or partners already reside there. Lastly, the very conditions of parole often create obstacles to employment. Many states require that an employer of a person on parole agree that the workplace premises can be searched at any time without prior warning-hardly an attractive proposition for any business. In addition, tens of thousands of people on parole are subject to house arrest with electronic monitors. All movement outside the house must be pre-approved by their parole agent. This makes changes in work schedule or jobs that involve travel an enormous challenge. Some basic changes to the conditions of parole could constitute an important step to easing the labor market conditions for people coming home from prison trying to secure and keep a job. All of this is not to deny that many corporations have made huge amounts of money from mass incarceration. Firms like Arizona’s Kitchell Construction, which has built more than 40 state prisons and 30 adult jails have made millions. The Tennessee-based Bob Barker Enterprises is a “household” name among the incarcerated. With a corporate vision of “transforming criminal justice by honoring God in all we do,“ Barker has reaped massive profits from producing the poorest quality consumer goods, including two inch toothbrushes, for people behind bars. Then, of course, we have private prison operators like CCA and the GEO Group. Although the privates control only 8% of prison beds nationally these two firms managed to bring in over 3 billion in revenue last year. While such profiteering continues, the prison-industrial complex remains driven by an agenda that is more about politics than profits. State-owned prisons and political agendas continue to lie at the center of mass incarceration. The combined revenue of CCA and the GEO Group for 2012 was less than half of the California state corrections budget. Politicians, with important influence from pro-corporate organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have made the PIC possible by passing harsh sentencing laws, funding the War on Drugs, tightening immigration legislation, and creating isolation units like Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Tamms and Angola. They have built a base of popular support for the “colorblind” approach of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” So while we need to curb the opportunities for corporate profit from putting people in cages, the main target of any campaign against the PIC must be to counter the racist ideology of “punitive populism” and reverse the political processes which perpetuate mass incarceration and the criminalization of the poor.
James Kilgore is a research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He writes on issues of mass incarceration with a focus on electronic monitoring and labor. He is also the author of three novels, all of which he drafted during his six and a half years in prison, 2002-09. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Missouri’s abortion ban completely outlaws abortion with limited exceptions.
The text of the law declares that “Almighty God is the author of life.”
Thirteen leaders from different faiths say separation of church and state is being violated.
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Thirteen faith leaders from various denominations are suing the state of Missouri over an abortion ban that completely outlaws abortion with limited exceptions — based on the premise that “Almighty God is the author of life.”
The clergy, who come from denominations of Christianity, Unitarian Universalism, and Judaism, said the abortion ban violates their religious freedom and subjects them to “the religious dictates of others.”
“In a years-long crusade against abortion access, state officials have weaponized their religious beliefs to control the bodies and deny the autonomy of women and all who can become pregnant, jeopardizing their health, lives, and futures,” the lawsuit says. “Many people of faith support abortion access not despite, but because of, their religion.”
There’s a long history of religious support for abortion rights, according to a 2022 report by The Law, Rights, and Religion Project. Some traditions, including the Presbyterian Church, Reform and Conservative Judaism, and the United Church of Christ, explicitly support the right to an abortion.
“The idea of a religious liberty right to reproductive autonomy is not something that came from lawyers,” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt, director of Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project. “It came from religious leaders and communities, who have been explaining for decades that they see reproductive freedom as essential to religious freedom.”
It’s unusual for explicitly religious language to be in the text of a statute, but legislators often invoke religious language when they debate and draft new laws, according to Platt.
More than a dozen states passed abortion bans in the days and weeks following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer. Missouri was one of the states that planned ahead. Under the state’s “trigger law,” passed in 2019, abortion became illegal as soon as the court made its ruling.
But Missouri lawmakers openly discussed their religious beliefs on abortion while writing the abortion ban in 2019 according to the lawsuit, saying things like “Life begins at conception. Psalms 119 says …,” and “God doesn’t give us a choice in this area. He is the Creator of life.”
There have also been more than a dozen cases challenging abortion restrictions on religious freedom grounds since the Supreme Court’s decision, according to Platt.
A Florida Jewish congregation, a group of Florida multifaith leaders, Methodist ministers in Texas, and Jewish and Muslim claimants in Indiana, among others, have all brought similar claims.
Some have had initial success, “including injunctions in Utah and Wyoming based in part on religion arguments, as well as more detailed early rulings in Kentucky and Indiana finding that banning abortion violates religious freedom,” Platt told Insider. But there have been no final court victories or losses.
Historically, though, few courts have directly said there is a religious liberty right to abortion care.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who is named in the lawsuit, said he would “defend the right to life with every tool at my disposal.”
“In Harris v. McRae, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments like those raised in this case, and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office has won on similar claims at the Missouri Supreme Court,” Bailey wrote, citing a Supreme Court case in which the court rejected an argument that an abortion restriction violated the establishment clause. “We look forward to doing it again. I will never back down from this fight.”