Alabama’s Shame: New Law Feeding Neighboring Private Prisons, Inmate Labor on the Rise

Screen-shot-2011-10-06-at-4.45.07-PM.pngSo here is how it goes:

1) Alabama passes an anti-immigrant law

2) Immigrants get detained

3) Private Prisons (LCS, CCA, GEO) receive inmates

4) Lack of workers is filled by new inmate labor. SLAVERY ANYONE?



One of the crowning ironies of the for-profit prison hucksters is that the only way they can achieve their prime directive, turning a huge profit, is by pushing the law until it breaks (as happened recently when a judge ruled Florida’s prison privatization scheme to be unconstitutional, thus sending the share prices of jail-for-pay outfits CCA and the Geo Group into the tank) or lobbying their purchased legislators to make new laws and regulations designed to make criminals out of more and more people.

The latter route has been popular with many states. See, for instance, Minnesota, as described in this story from the Minnesota Independent (hat tip to Bluestem Prairie):

It’s been almost two years since the privately-run prison in Appleton has held prisoners. But in early 2012, the prison’s owner, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), expects to fill Appleton’s Prairie Correctional Facility and another facility in Colorado with 3,256 inmates from California.

In the last ten years, the revenue of CCA, the country’s biggest private prison company, has almost doubled, according to their annual reports. Critics say that CCA’s success, and even the likely reopening of the prison in Appleton, stems from their use of lobbying and campaign donations to push through tougher crime laws and increase detainment of illegal immigrants.

“Prison privatization contracts are designed by policy makers. It’s important for these companies to have a political strategy to increase their market share,” Paul Ashton, author of a recent report on private prisons for the Justice Policy Institute, said in a conference call Wednesday. Private prison companies “game the system,” he said, by pushing to increase market share, which in the private prison business means putting more people in prison.


Amy Gottlieb of the American Friends Service Committee told the Minnesota Independent that prisoners transferred to other states often face both emotional and legal hurdles.

“Ultimately, we have thousands and thousands and thousands of people around the country who are being locked up, held away from their families, in the immigration context are often unrepresented by council,” Gottlieb said. “People are profiting off of that.”

As both the Mindy article and the video above explain, this is a key factor in the creation of Arizona’s SB 1070 — and other similar laws in states across the nation. And, yes, ALEC – the far-right-wing, big-business-backed American Legislative Exchange Council — helped people like Russell Pearce, SB 1070′s author-of-record and a guy with ties to honest-to-goodness Nazis, write and pass these bills.

One of the justifications often given for jail-the-immigrant human-trafficking laws like SB 1070 is that by jailing and warehousing immigrants, they free up jobs for “real Americans”. This was heard most recently in the wake of the anti-immigrant law just passed in Alabama:

Backers of the law acknowledge that it might be disruptive in the short term, but say it will prove effective over time.

“It’s going to take some time for the local labor pool to develop again,” said State Senator Arthur Orr, Republican of Decatur, “but outside labor shouldn’t come in and just beat them every time on cost and put them out of business.”

Except these jobs aren’t going to the local labor pool — they’re going to prison:

Mr. Orr said there were already signs that the law was working, pointing out that the work-release center in Decatur, about 50 miles to the northwest, was not so long ago unable to find jobs for inmates with poultry processors or home manufacturers. Since the law was enacted in June, he said, the center has been placing more and more inmates in these jobs, now more than 150 a day.

So taking away the immigrants didn’t suddenly turn all of their jobs into living-wage jobs for the unemployed — it just provided a way for what are in essence slave-labor plantations, many if not most of them privatized prisons where immigrants make up the bulk of the population, to make a lot of money by farming out the people they’ve jailed.

In other words, the immigrants that once worked these jobs as free human beings are now likely doing the same jobs, except they’re doing them as unfree humans — and their keepers are making a killing off of them.

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