For-profit prison corporations play an important role in creating an alarmingly large forced prison labor, as shockingly allowed by the 13th Amendment. Through this loophole they are unfairly putting prisoners to work so few individuals can gain money and power. But how does Capitalism affect and profit from incarcerated people? Section 1 of the Amendment clearly states that: “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.” This means that private businesses are using the language found in the 13th Amendment and are forcing prisoners into hard labor without any pay. These prisons are a prime example of racial inequality and wealth inequality, as these are two factors that come into play when deciding if these lawbreakers should go to prison or not. These private prisons are profiting from the hard work of both people of color and poor people.
Authorities mostly put people who are poor into jail. In fact, according to a magazine article, “Two-thirds detained in jails report annual incomes under $12,000 prior to arrest” (Center for Community Change, 2013, par. 4). This information is staggering, poverty in prisons comes at such a high rate that more than half of the people detained in these private prisons make just over $10,000 a year. Another magazine article proves how much wealth inequality there is by saying: “Recent research indicates that, if not for the rise in incarceration, the number of people in poverty would fall by as much as 20 percent” (Center for Community Change, 2013, par. 1). This means that if there were not so many incarcerated people, they would be out getting jobs and earning money. A striking percent of people in poverty end up in these private prisons when they could be getting themselves out of poverty. “The report finds that boys born into households in the bottom 10% of earners are 20 times more likely to be in prison on a given day in their early 30s than children born into the top 10%” (Rabuy & Kopf, 2018, par. 2). The article shows how much gap there is between the top and bottom workers of our economy.
Private prisons are huge businesses primarily populated by black and brown people. “More than 60 percent of those in prison come from African American and Latino communities”(Center for Community Change, 2015, p. 2). This data shows how prisons are an example of racial inequality. They are spraying these prisons with people of color. “African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states” (Nellis, 2016, par. 1). Compared to the amount of white people in prison, black people clearly outnumber them by more than 5 times. This means that for every white person there are 5 black people. It is not surprising to see how populated prisons are with people of color. “In eleven states, at least 1 in 20 adult black males is in prison” (Nellis, 2016, par. 7). This shows that there are a lot of black people in prison. Not just compared to white people, but just in general. People of color still have to deal with racial inequality in prisons because authorities are being more ruff with them and are sentencing them to longer sentences than a white person even if they committed the same crime.
For-profit prison corporations play an important role in creating a large forced prison labor as allowed by the 13th Amendment. Another magazine article explains how this could happen. “Incarcerated persons have no constitutional rights in this arena; they can be forced to work as punishment for their crimes” (Benns, 2015, p. 2). This proves how private prisons have found ways to make this perfectly legal when it should be marked as unjust and illegal. Another article talks more in depth about this: “Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly —as little as two cents per day/hour— for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens” (Benns, 2015, p. 2). The prisoners are practically slaves as these private prisons continue to thrive thanks to the inmates’ hard work.
With few exceptions, inmates are required to work if cleared by medical professionals at the prison. Punishments for refusing to do so include solitary confinement, loss of earned good time, and revocation of family visitation. For this forced labor, prisoners earn pennies per hour, if anything at all (Benns, 2015, p. 3).
As explained, prisoners are expected to work without pay. Prisoners who are working and basically taking care of the prisons are getting an average of 2 cents per hour, far less than the lowest federal minimum wage of $7.25.
By judging the relationship between prisons and incarcerated workers to be of a primarily social or penological nature, the courts have placed wage and working condition protections out of reach for incarcerated workers (Benns, 2015, p. 3).
The court should finally begin to realize that the working conditions of these incarcerated individuals is unfair even considering the crimes that they committed.
As shown, private prisons are using capitalism to take advantage of inmates. They use factors like the color of one's skin and the amount of money one has. There is an abundant use of racial profiling in this part of capitalism. Racial profiling, the process of judging whether someone committed a crime or not just by the color of their skin, is a bias tactic systemically used by authorities. This unconstitutional use of capitalism is backed up from the loopholes they found in the 13th amendment. Such an important document left a part of the population so vulnerable. Through capitalism, private prisons are holding these people as slaves, forcing them to work. It is both racist and a negative capitalist mentality.
Benns, W. (2015). American Slavery, Reinvented. September, 21.
Center for Community Change. (2015). The Relationship between Poverty and Mass Incarceration.
Nellis. (2016). Color of Justice.
Rabuy, B. & Kopf, D. (2018) Prisons of Poverty. July, 9.