Prison labor began at the end of slavery when convicts were
leased for work in the South, effectively returning large numbers of African
Americans to plantations as free or cheap labor.
Today, many large corporations use prison labor. They include department stores, airlines, and
catalog sales companies.
Many people see this as a reinstatement of an institution of
forced labor. The analogies to slavery
are obvious, given the disproportionate presence of people of color –
especially young, African American men – in prisons. Prison labor can also be seen as an
exploitation of the poor, who are vastly overrepresented in prison populations because
they could not afford adequate representation.
Corporate use of cheap labor through the use of prisoners
removes jobs from the general economy, fails to pay prisoners adequate
compensation for work, and reduces the tax base in our communities.
For a historical view and discussion of today’s realities, follow this link.