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.
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.