The Prison Industry: Big Business using Inmate Labour

In America’s rush to gut out their government and privatize everything, some extremely troubling conflicts of interest are arising. The privatization of homeland security and the privatization of the prison system are two very good examples, where corporate management means that it is actually profitable to inflict suffering. Private companies running homeland security profit most during wartime, and thus have vested interests in maintaining the market of ‘war’. Private companies running the prison system profit from imprisoning as many people as possible, putting that prized American idea of “justice” into big, ironic quotation marks.


Not only is it a conflict of interest that companies should want to lock people up, but now they are profiting doubly by selling cheap inmate labour to big businesses. As this previous post explains (Immigration Laws, Trafficking, and Modern Day Slavery), the hyper-capitalist economy in the US today was made possible only through slavery, which they’ve tried to continue through unfair and restrictive immigration laws that ensure a class of cheap labourers is always available. As activists work to reform immigration policies, American Big Business needs new forms of cheap labour –and they’ll find it, in prisons.

In the last 10 years, the number of inmates in the US has risen drastically. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The US has locked up half a million more than China (which has a population of 5 times that of the US), and holds 25% of the worlds prison population but only 5% of the world’s population. In the last ten years, the number of private prisons rose from 5 to 100, and there are now 2 million mostly Black and Hispanic prisoners in the US whose labour is being contracted out for pittance.

Inmates from a La Fourche parish jail on a work release program fill giant sandbags in Port Fourchon

“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”


The prison industry complex, backed by Wall Street, is one of the fastest growing industries in the US. As crime rates go down, jail populations are going up. This is because the US is jailing people for non-violent crimes, such as minor drug possession, without possibility of parole. Many states are pushing to have these laws remedied, but with profits to be made through prisons and prison labour, it is no wonder why Uncle Sam is coming down hard on any and all minor transgressions. This must make us rethink both 1) the unchecked privatization of government services, which is put forth as the best way to grow the economy through the ludicrously utopian ‘invisible hand’ of the market, and 2) the validity of the ‘law’ and of ‘justice’ when powerful actors stand to profit both economically and politically from running a zero tolerance police state. If we allow this prison system (and most privatized systems) to continue in this way, the future of ‘justice and freedom’ looks terrifying in the best light.


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3 Comments on “The Prison Industry: Big Business using Inmate Labour”

  1. leazengage February 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Reblogged this on sharing justice works!.

  2. andhastings February 4, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Very upsetting.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the racial composition of inmates in the US is far from diverse, which really does support the notion that this is literally slavery.

    • utopiandreaming February 4, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Yes, it is mostly Black and Hispanic inmates being jailed for minor, non-violent crimes, while white collar criminals get a slap on the wrist for large-scale economic fraud.

      “The rule of law isn’t really the rule of law if it doesn’t apply equally to everybody. I mean, if you’re going to put somebody in jail for having a joint in his pocket, you can’t let higher ranking HSBC officials off for laundering $800 million for the worst drug dealers in the entire world — people who are suspected, not only of dealing drugs, but of thousands of murders,” Mark Taibbi.

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