majority was relegated to the margins of the economy as sharecroppers,
tenant-farmers or victims of the South’s notorious crop lien system.
facing starvation and usually illiterate (it was against the law to teach blacks
to read under the infamous ‘black codes’);, blacks frequently found themselves at
odds with prevailing laws or the agents and enforcers of law," Fierce
writes. The last southern state to outlaw convict-leasing was North Carolina
forebears were poor immigrants to this country and they made it. Why can ‘t
blacks do the same," is a popular refrain. Perhaps, if schools put more
focus on the "history" part of "black history month," then
such silly and cynical sentiment would die-off naturally like a virus slain by a
healthy immune system.
has morphed into something else today – a multi-billion-dollar crime control
industry. And you don’t have to be Karl Menninger or C. Vann Woodward to suspect
something is fundamentally wrong with America’s crime and punishment system and
that black folks disproportionately find themselves entrails in the belly of the
federal law prohibiting domestic commerce in prison-manufactured goods unless
inmates are paid "prevailing wage," allows politicians to feign
concern for human rights with a straight face, railing about prison labor in
Communist China. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that American
"free-market" leaders do the same thing. The prison-labor law
"doesn’t apply to exports, (so) no California prison officials will end up
in cells alongside their ’employees,’" observes Reese Erlich, an
independent reporter who teaches journalism at Cal State Hayward and has been
studying this stuff for years.
makes another interesting observation: Chinese and U.S. prison officials make
the same arguments in defense of their prisn labor systems. "We want
prisoners to learn a working skill," Erlich quotes Mai Lin Hua, warden at
China’s maximum security Shanghai Jail.
Nichols, who heads up Oregon’s "Prison Blues" jean-making racket,
says, "We provide extra training for them. Here the inmates
volunteer." They "volunteer" in California too, in one of the
nation’s top prison industries – the California Prison Industry Authority, where
inmates are forced to work at sewing machines to make blue work shirts at $.45
cents an hour. If they refuse to work, they have their canteen privileges
suspended and they lose "good time" credit on their jail terms.
talking for-profit operations here. From 1980 to 1994, the number of federal and
state prisoners increased by 221 percent and the number of inmates employed in
prison industries jumped 358 percent, according to the Correctional Industries
Association. During that same period, prison industry sales shot up from $392
million to $1.31 billion, Erlich reports.
study is being released this week called "Poor Prescription: The Costs of
Imprisoning Drug Offenders," put together by the Justice Policy Institute.
The study found that the number of inmates in jail for drug offenses today
(458,131) nearly exceeds the entire 1980 prison population (474,368).
report’s major findings: From 1986 to 1996, the number of whites imprisoned for
drug offenses has doubled, while the number of blacks imprisoned for drug
offenses has increased five-fold. And that despite the fact that whites account
for over 70 percent of all illicit drug use in America.
is a statistically significant association between higher incarceration rates of
drug offenders and greater, not less, drug use in the states examined, the study
found. Also, nearly half of all drug offenders imprisoned in California last
year were locked up for simple possession of drugs.
brother, if you can’t find a way into the "booming economy," there’s a
great jobs program in the prison industry.