Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Government Benefits From Prison Slavery

Issue 8 of The Voluntaryist has a note apologizing for the newsletter being delayed, so this issue consists entirely of one item, a scholarly article Carl wrote about prison slavery. The main thrust of this article is to share the history of prison slavery from a Voluntaryist perspective.

Before becoming a libertarian, it never really bothered me that prisoners had to work while in prison. I always thought of it as a common sense way to help pay for their incarceration.

But after being exposed to libertarian ideas, I realized this system was doing nothing for the victim and I began thinking more about restitution. I thought it was strange that we didn’t have a good system of restitution and this article helped explain why that may be so.

The state benefits much more if criminals work for them instead of working to repay those they have actually harmed.

Carl writes:

“… the prospect of increasing State revenues through the administration of criminal justice at the expense of the criminal and his victim was one of the principal incentives in the transformation of private justice from a mere arbitration between parties to a significant part of the "public" criminal law.”

Carl goes on to explain how the 13th amendment ended private slavery but included the exception of force prison labor and makes the interesting point that, as usual, the government exempted itself from the laws everyone else had to follow.

Carl maintains that it wasn’t about having the prisoners do work to support their expenses of being imprisoned; it was about forcing labor for the profit of the state.

Carl mentions a fellow named Cesare Beccaria who in 1764 wrote a book called Of Crimes and Punishments. This book apparently did much to change views on the penal system and Thomas Jefferson followed his ideas closely. Carl says Beccaria’s ideas led directly to UNICOR, which is the name for the federal prison industry.

I did some research on UNICOR on its website and found out this program began during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. Why does that not surprise me?

The organization makes a big deal of saying they don’t want to compete with private business and labor. Throughout its history those private groups have criticized the program and one result was that UNICOR only sells to the federal government. Interestingly criticism continues because private groups would also like to sell to the government.

The most disturbing aspect I discovered while reading their history is that they played a big part in providing products for U.S. war efforts. So this program uses prison labor to make it easier to engage in war. Not a good idea.

The one piece of information I found that was even remotely positive was that apparently some of the inmate’s earnings go toward restitution. But what are they earning? In a set of minutes from 2005, it said the inmate wage scale had not increased since 1989 so we can be pretty sure they’re not being paid much, certainly not minimum wage which of course gives us yet another instance where government ignores its own laws.

All of this is a direct result of the consequences of government interference in arbitration and restitution. We put people in prison where they are idle. This causes lots of problems. So the government solution is to create a prison slavery program that causes more controversy and problems. But it benefits the state so it continues.

Finally, perhaps worst of all, if this system were not in effect, victimless crimes would be much more glaring and obvious to all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please note that your research has been posted on my Facebook.
Towards Abolition,