Slavery in America – Private Prisons and the 13th Amendment

The main reason private facilities are condemned by organizations like the ACLU, is that their business model depends on high rates of incarceration, and puts pressure on the government to keep those rates high, to ensure their profit margins. Sacrificing the freedom of citizens for profit is slavery. Having those prisoners work for less than the federal minimum wage is also slavery.

This slavery is, absurdly, completely lawful. Slavery was outlawed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, this only outlawed slavery in general.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

U.S. Const. Amd. XIII.

It is being more widely discussed in American media and politics today that slavery is legal in the United States, so long as that slavery is relegated to prison inmates. Thus, the mass incarceration in America, which imprisons more people per-capita and in absolute numbers than anybody else in the world (by a WIDE margin), is the continuation of slavery by calling it a different name.

And this is why private prisons are such an insidious idea. When a company in the private sector is dependent on the government for the means by which they make profit, conflicts of ethics abound. This is especially so with private prisons, because the means by which they make a profit are people, specifically inmates.

While slavery of the incarcerated may be legal and constitutional, a never-ending supply of slave labor (inmates) are needed to keep that business model going when it is operated by a company motivated by profits over justice. Lets look at a few examples of how fast and wildly this combination of private industry and criminal justice spirals into madness:

The stock-in-trade for private prisons is bodies, inmates, and their profits are increased through prison labor that can pay as little as 12 Cents per hour. In Alabama, inmates make zero dollars, which makes all inmate labor in that state outright slavery.

Separation of Interests is Vital

There is no confusion as to why private prisons are, and always have been, a bad idea. While state and federally run prisons pay inmate labor a pittance, the political pressure against reducing prison populations leans more toward ideology. With the exception of Correctional Officer labor unions, nobody in their right mind advocates against reducing crime and incarceration.

However, when profits are put into the mix, the motivation of the private sector does not align with public benefit. Private prisons drive the American system of mass incarceration with a force that ideology could never achieve.

Until the American system of criminal justice no longer tolerates private interests fueling public policy, and until the American People no longer tolerate a 13th Amendment that still allows slavery, convicted inmates will continue to be slaves, and private prisons will continue to use slavery for profits.

When the population of black Americans only constitute 13% of total population, but represent 40% of all inmates, have we really come very far in terms of slavery in the last 160 years?

If every inmate is allowed to be a slave, that means there are over 2 million slaves in America today. In absolute numbers, this means that there are approximately 800,000 black slaves in American prisons. At its antebellum height there were 3.9 million slaves in America.

So, it can be argued that American has cut slavery by half in the last 150 years. Not so great an achievement as it is taught in elementary school.

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