Stop Using Inmates As Slaves

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By Annie McGrew and Angela Hanks for Talk Poverty – Last week, a Louisiana sheriff gave a press conference railing against a new prisoner release program because it cost him free labor from “some good [inmates] that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in the cars, to cook in the kitchen.” Two days later, news broke that up to 40 percent of the firefighters battling California’s outbreak of forest fires are prison inmates working for $2 an hour. Practices like these are disturbingly common: Military gear, ground meat, Starbucks holiday products, and McDonald’s uniforms have all been made (or are still made) with low-wage prison labor. Inmates are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that workers are paid at least the federal minimum wage. That makes it completely legal for states to exploit inmates for free or cheap labor. More than half of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons work while incarcerated, and the vast majority only make a few cents per hour. Most inmates work in their own prison facilities, in jobs such as maintenance or food service. These jobs pay an average of just 86 cents an hour, and are primarily designed to keep the prison running at a low cost. Others may be employed in so-called “correctional industries,” where inmates work for the Department of Corrections to produce goods that are sold to government entities and nonprofit organizations.

Slave Labor Widespread At ICE Detention Centers, Lawyers Say

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By Mia Steinle for POGO – There are nearly 200 federal detention centers across the country. Here, people suspected of violating U.S. immigration laws wait for court hearings to find out if they’ll stay in the United States or be deported. While they wait, many detainees work as part of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “voluntary work program.” They clean, they cook, they do laundry, and they garden—some advocates say they keep the facilities running. For their labor, the detainees are supposed to be paid at least $1 per day, or just under $0.13 per hour for an 8-hour work day. This arrangement has the blessings of both ICE and Congress, the latter of which set the rate over a half a century ago and hasn’t changed it since. However, a growing body of legal experts says paying detainees $1 per day not only violates state minimum wage laws, but also violates the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in all instances except as punishment for people convicted of crimes. Experts argue that, because the majority of detainees have not been convicted of crimes, they should be fairly compensated for their labor. From California to Colorado to Massachusetts, detainees have recently taken legal action against the for-profit companies and local governments that operate the majority of ICE detention centers.

Abolitionists From Around The World Gather To End Prisons

Janetta Johnson at the keynote address for the International Conference of Penal Abolition (ICOPA). (Photo courtesy of Rustbelt Abolitionist Radio from Detroit)

By Jean Trounstine for Truthout. In July 2017 more than 200 people from across the globe met for four days in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which was once home to abolitionist Frederick Douglass and a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Meeting intentionally in a place with such historical significance to the abolition movement, conferees came together to learn more about the relationship between the carceral state and struggles against colonialism and slavery. Since 2000, “The increased use of incarceration accounted for nearly zero percent of the overall reduction in crime,” according to a recent report by the Vera Institute, entitled “The Prison Paradox: More Incarceration Will Not Make Us Safer.” The report also underscores the structural racism in which incarceration is grounded, adding, “Incarceration will increase crime in states and communities with already high incarceration rates.” Recognizing that prison does not reduce violence, many organizations and abolitionists advocate community accountability practices as an alternative to the punishment system, utilizing networks of friends, families, church groups, neighborhoods or workplace associates to provide safety to the community and ways of healing harm.

Newsletter: Success Against Racists, Build On It

Thousands of counter-protesters march down Tremont Street.	—Matthew J. Lee / The Boston Globe

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Last week, we wrote about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia in terms of their historical and political context. Since then, the national and international response to right wing mobilization has been rapid and powerful. The response has been global, e.g. women in Poland held photos of slain Heather Heyer while they blocked a far right wing march. The national conversation is changing to include criticism of white supremacy and confederate statues are being taken down. This week, we present a greater focus on the tasks of the movement for social justice and racial equality. It is possible to halt the rise of right wing extremism. To do that we must understand what institutions maintain white supremacy and turn our energy towards ending racist institutions in the United States and globally.

Millions For Prisoners’ Human Rights March In DC

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By Kyle Fraser for Black Agenda Report. Prisoner rights advocates will converge for what aims to be the largest abolitionist demonstration in U.S. history, Saturday, August 9, in Washington D.C. The Millions for Prisoners’ Human Rights March is centered around the demand that the exceptions clause, which allows for slavery to continue in United States prisons, be removed from the Constitution’s 13th Amendment. With over 1,100 lives claimed last year by today’s slave-catchers in law enforcement, a Black imprisoned population that comprises 1/9 of the prisoners on earth and a manufactured “war on drugs” that rages on despite untold evidence of its foul origins, the fact of prison slavery should not exceed the imagination’s limits — and yet mass mobilization for its abolition has thus far not reflected the brutally severe implications of its ongoing practice. On August 19th, IAmWeUbuntu and the other march organizers both in and outside the walls seek to change that, as they bring family members, friends and supporters of the incarcerated from across the country together under the banner of abolitionism. The growing modern-day abolitionist movement calls on all people of conscience to join in on the mass denunciation of this country’s original sin in D.C.’s Lafayette Park this Saturday, August 19th, to finally achieve the goal of ending slavery once and for all and without exception.

’13th’ And The Culture Of Surplus Punishment

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By Victor Wallis for the San Francisco Bay View. From the late 1800s until now, unpaid prison labor has been the pattern, practice, and collective mindset of various states across America. Southern states have taken particular advantage of the wording of the 13th Amendment, and in turn, current resistance movements have risen out of prison-dense states like Texas and Alabama, where units are often compared to plantations. The degrading treatment of people in prison, however, is a nationwide issue, as shown in the widespread imposition of solitary confinement, assaults by guards, and medical neglect. On Saturday, August 19th, prison activists and everyone who wants to join in will march in Washington DC, San Jose CA, and other cities around the country.

Elon Musk Subsidiary Using Prison Labor

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By Aura Bogado for Grist – SolarCity is probably the best-known name in the U.S. for residential solar installations — it’s top in the market. The company was founded by Elon Musk, along with two of his cousins, and has set the popular standard for cleantech. But SolarCity has one thing it doesn’t want to be known for: For a huge solar-panel project launched in 2012 at two university campuses in Oregon, it relied on a vendor that used cheap prison labor to produce the panels, under a “buy American/buy local” banner. The story is a good reminder that we need to watch the renewables industry closely to make sure it doesn’t throw human rights and labor ethics out the window in its push toward a clean energy economy. Here’s how the SolarCity prison saga came about. Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology teamed up a few years ago to install solar panels on their campuses, in what would become one of the largest solar installations in the state. Since the vendor, ultimately SolarCity, would own and maintain the panels, the two schools wouldn’t need to spend a penny on the project. For SolarCity, the contract also looked like a win. Under a lucrative state program, the Oregon Department of Energy doled out $11.8 million in tax credits for the $27 million project. (SolarCity would not confirm the amount of the tax breaks despite repeated requests.)

Slave Labor: Prisoners Work In State Buildings For Under .24 Cents An Hour

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By Celisa Calacal for AlterNet – When activist Sam Sinyangwe was awaiting a meeting with the governor’s office at the Louisiana state capitol building in Baton Rouge, he noticed something odd. A black man in a dark-blue jumpsuit was printing papers while a correctional guard—with a badge and gun—stood watching over him. The pair stood out against the white, middle-aged legislators populating the building. Sinyangwe said he did not know exactly what he was looking at, until he saw another black man in the same dark-blue outfit serving food at the capitol building’s cafeteria. This time, Sinyangwe noticed that the man had a patch on his chest labeling him a prisoner of the Louisiana State Department of Corrections, complete with an identification number. Sinyangwe realized that the server, the man printing papers and the other people working in the lunch line were all prisoners. Inmates working at the capitol building in Baton Rouge is a common sight. Prisoners work in the Louisiana governor’s mansion and inmates clean up after Louisiana State University football games as well. But the labor practice of having inmates work in state government buildings extends beyond Louisiana; at least six other states in the U.S. allow for this practice: Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Georgia.

Prison Strike Having Major Financial Impact On California

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By Staff from Solidarity Research. September 9, 2016 was the start of the largest prison strike in U.S. history. Over 72,000 incarcerated workers in 22 states refused to provide their labor to profit the prison industrial complex. California forces 5,588 incarcerated workers to labor in exchange for little or no compensation.1 Another 4,000 earn $2 a day fighting Californian wildfires with inadequate training and equipment.2 The prison system in California reaped $207 million in revenue and $58 million in profit from forced labor in 2014-15.3 Each incarcerated worker in California generates $41,549 annually in revenue for the prison system, or $10,238 in profit.4 The financial losses to the California prison system were as much as $636,068 in revenue, or $156,736 in profit, for every day of the prison strike. Prison administrators have responded to nonviolent resistance by locking down facilities, cutting off access and communication to the outside world for incarcerated workers.

Newsletter - On 9/11, Facing The Truth

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By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centers in New York where 3,000 people died. The immediate responses to the attack were panic, grief and ultra-nationalism, followed by illegal attacks on Afghanistan and then Iraq. Perhaps now that 15 years has passed, we should look back at the events and review decisions that were made in hopes of avoiding mistakes in the future. The leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, seem stuck on the same path we have been on for 15 years — is more militarism the right path? Have war and military attacks made the region more stable, the United States more secure, reduced terrorism, prevented instability in Europe due to the refuege crisis? Or, has the path of militarism made all of this worse?

Who’s Behind Unpaid Prison Labor In Texas?

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By Aaron Cantú for Little Sis News – Several of the officials charged with regulating Texas’s prison labor program, wherein thousands of workers behind bars are compelled to produce goods and provide services for free, are connected to some of the richest and most powerful institutions and people in the state. The Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which oversees Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), the prison industry division within the state’s Department of Criminal Justice, has authority over how much compensation inmates working for the state receive for their labor.

Who’s Behind Unpaid Prison Labor In Texas?

Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, was among the first prisoners taken to Guantánamo in January 2002. Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP

By Aaron Miguel Cantú for LittleSis News – Several of the officials charged with regulating Texas’s prison labor program, wherein thousands of workers behind bars are compelled to produce goods and provide services for free, are connected to some of the richest and most powerful institutions and people in the state. The Texas Board of Criminal Justice, which oversees Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), the prison industry division within the state’s Department of Criminal Justice, has authority over how much compensation inmates working for the state receive for their labor.

Newsletter: Justice Takes A Lifetime

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By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers for Popular Resistance. The #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to grow its power and have notable victories, but 600 hundred years of racial oppression, older than the nation itself, will not be rooted out quickly. The movement had a series of electoral and other victories this week. These victories for #BLM and their supporters are notable but problems still persist and the movement must continue to grow and get stronger. There are no quick fixes to a country that is crippled by its history of racism. We must all recognize that the work we are doing for racial, economic and environmental justice requires us to be persistent and uncompromising. achieve the transformational justice we seek will last our lifetimes – a marathon and not a sprint.

Whole Foods Says It Will Stop Selling Foods Made With Prison Labor

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By Allison Aubrey for NPR – Whole Foods Market has announced that by April of next year it will stop sourcing foods that are produced using prison labor. The move comes on the heels of a demonstration in Houston where the company was chastised for employing inmates through prison-work programs. Michael Allen, founder of End Mass Incarceration Houston, organized the protest. He says Whole Foods was engaging in exploitation since inmates are typically paid very low wages. “People are incarcerated and then forced to work for pennies on the dollar — compare that to what the products are sold for,” Allen tells The Salt.

Newsletter - Black August, End Neo-Slavery, Resist

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By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese for Popular Resistance – Black August is coming to an end as we commemorate the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As many head back to school, a full season of actions are being planned for the fall to stop the corporate takeover of our communities and world and the push toward neo-slavery. There is a lot of resistance going on. We hope that you have an opportunity this summer to relax and build up your energy for the many actions that are being planned for the fall. If you go to a park, there is one more thing you can do: take a moment to think about the people who inhabited the land before it became a park.