Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Cheap Labor: Alabama legislature to consider bill allowing prisoners to be hired

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, March 15, 2012

In Alabama, it’s “Deja Vu all over again,” or “Back to the Future” again, and again, all over again…

Some folks say they want to “take America back.”

The only problem I have with that, is that they never say where, or how far back they want to take America.

Do they want to take it back to the Jim Crow law era, before the time of Civil Rights?

Or, do they want to take it back to before suffrage (the right of women to vote)?

Or, God forbid, dare they take it back even further? Surely not to King George!

Where ARE our “leaders'” sense of ethics, righteousness and justice?

I remain convinced, they are utterly and completely NUTZO!

This is the kind of crap we would expect from Communist Russia – NOT America!

Or is this Amerikkka?

Preceding this story as well are some germane items on penal labor.

Burdened with heavy taxes to meet the expenses of rebuilding the shattered economy, and committed to the traditional notion that convicts should, by their labor, reimburse the government for their maintenance and even create additional revenue, the master class, drawing on its past experience with penitentiary leases, reintroduced a system of penal servitude which would make public slaves of blacks and poor and friendless whites.

— J.T. Sellin

( Sellin, J. T. Slavery and the Penal System. Elsevier, 1976. )

Throughout US history, there have been many laws concerning incarcerated labor. The most recent legislation, and the laws we still adhere to today, were created during the Depression to protect the fragile jobs of free citizens. The 1935 Hawes-Cooper Act and the 1940 Ashurst-Sumner Act made interstate trading of prison-made goods illegal (Miller 1). During the 1970’s, however, many of these laws were amended. In 1979 the Justice System Improvement Act allowed for privatization of prisons and for the transport of their goods across state boundaries (Miller 2). After this change in law, prison industry profits jumped from $392 million to $1.31 billion (Erlich 3). However, the Depression legislation still holds true for state and federally run prisons.

American Policy on Penal Labor
The 13th Amendment of the American Constitution in 1865 explicitly allows penal labour as it states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” However the “convict lease” system became popular in the South in the late 19th century. Since the impoverished state governments could not afford penitentiaries, they leased out prisoners to work at private firms. Douglas A. Blackmon argues that it was Southern policy to intimidate blacks; tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.[9] The state governments maximized profits by putting the responsibility on the lessee to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the prisoners, which resulted in extremely poor conditions, numerous deaths, and perhaps the most inhumane system of labour in the United States.[10] Reformers abolished convict lease in the Progressive Era, stopping the system in Florida in 1919. The last state to abolish the practice was Alabama in 1927.

In 1934, however, federal prison officials concerned about growing unrest in prisons lobbied to create a work programme. Companies got involved again in 1979, when Congress passed a law allowing them to hire prisoners in some circumstances.

For most of the last two decades, the programmes remained tiny. But the tough drug and sentencing laws of the 1980s helped increase the number of Americans behind bars by 80 per cent, to two million, in a decade.[11]

Penal labour is sometimes used as a punishment in the U.S. military.[12]

AL State House 9326140-small

Alabama House members debate over bill to allow businesses hire prison inmates

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 2:02 PM     Updated: Thursday, March 15, 2012, 2:02 PM

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The House of Representatives adjourned for the day today after a squabble over a bill that would let private businesses employ prison inmates to make their products.

There was no vote on the bill. Many black lawmakers opposed it, saying it could take jobs from Alabama citizens and that it harkened back to the days of chain gangs and forced prison labor.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, called the bill a win-win situation since the companies would pay the cash-strapped prison system and the inmates who volunteer for the program would earn minimum wage or more.

“It astounds me,” McClendon said of the opposition.

“The bill makes so much sense. It helps the victims. It reduces recidivism. It helps the prisoners. It helps the prison system,” McClendon said.

McClendon said the program would be entirely voluntarily and inmates could not be forced to participate. Any restitution the inmate owed would be taken out of his wages. “It keeps them busy,” McClendon said.

All of the work would be done within the prison or on property owned by Department of Corrections, McClendon said.

Opponents of the bill said it could take jobs from Alabama citizens

“I just don’t like using prisoners to do things that compete with the free market,” Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, said.

Newton said the bill was somewhat reminiscent of the days of prison mines and other forced prison labor.

But McClendon disputed assertions that the bill would take jobs from free citizens saying the jobs would be new employment opportunities from companies.

The House approved the bill last year, but it did not win final passage in the Alabama Senate, McClendon said. McClendon said he expects the House will eventually approve the bill again.

House members will reconvene Tuesday.

###

This story may be found here: http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/03/bill_would_let_businesses_hire.html

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