It is not a secret that prison slave labor can generate revenue and cut costs significantly. It has become a nationwide phenomenon where business owners are vying to use inmates to gain a competitive advantage and reduce operational costs; on the other hand government agencies are also exploiting inmates for jobs that they would otherwise have to get public employees or contractors. Even farmers have turned to prisoners for labor to harvest their crops.
Charles Brew and Larry Stephaney both former inmates of a Nashville prison in Davidson County claim to have worked while in prison and the merchandise they manufactured were sold by prison officials at a flea market. AP reported that the two claim to have been forced to work for free.
The allegedly worked in the facility’s woodshop making birdhouses, lawn games and other simple pieces of woodworking that Stand Firm later sold at a city flea market and online. The alleged company belongs to a teacher who teaches the building trades shop course at the facility where the products were made, there are also two other CCA employees involved, one of whom has reportedly left the company. Rob Hill and Roy Napper owners of Stand Firm denied any wrongdoing to the Associated Press. The third participant declined to respond to messages sent to him.
Larry Stephaney and Charles Brew both former inmates showed the Associated Press evidence of the scheme pieces of wood bearing the number “412148,” The number represents the section of state law that prohibits anyone from profiting out of prisoners labor. The two men say they hid the pieces of wood inside the structures of the products they made for the CCA employees’ company, Stand Firm Designs.
Another example of inmate labor use is in California where inmates are regularly asked to fight wildfire. Though they are paid $2 a day, it is not fair compared to what they go through while doing that kind of work. Furthermore, they are only paid a 50 percent hazard pay bump for the many hours they spend fighting fire.
Prison labor has been a feature of American incarceration for a long time. Even before industrial, private, for-profit prison companies emerged and started taking advantage of prisoners’ labor; material needs of government were already being performed by inmates. Though prison labor programs are still officially billed, under the impression that the skills gained will help them support themselves when they go back to the society, they are often exploited because they cannot complain while in prison.
However, as long as there is demand for cheap labor and supply of prisoners, the use of prison slave labor at the expense of free world workers is only likely to expand.