Modern American Slavery

by Elijah DeRoche, United World College Maastricht
18th June, 2018

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f I told you that your underwear, cellular data, petrol and thousands of other goods were produced for mere cents an hour away from slave labor, would you believe it? The United States, along with many other countries, offers programs for its incarcerated to work throughout the day in order to earn money and potentially find some stability. This tactic has been incredibly effective in countries like Sweden, where prisoner rates have fallen for the past decade and fair wages have allowed incarcerated laborers to learn a skill and earn a decent income. In the United States, however, this is not the case. With wages varying from a low of $0.00 an hour for non-industry jobs to a high of $1.25, the average prison wage measures to just $0.83 cents an hour, roughly $3.45 a day.
With one of the world’s highest incarceration rates of 716 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, there are over 2 million prisoners in the United States. Contradictory to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ objective to reform criminals and make them fit for society again, over 67% of these prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release. This staggering fact is a result of the United States’ lusterless prison rehabilitation methods which leads to a shockingly high unemployment rate among ex-convicts. After months, years or decades of incarceration, released inmates find the outside world a place they are both economically and socially unfit for. Almost half of all ex-inmates find themselves unemployed for several years following their release while half of the employed ex-inmates earn less than $10,000 a year. Depending on the amount of time served, released convicts often find themselves without a family to turn to, and more importantly, without an economic safety net to fall on. While prisoners are assigned jobs through the prison labor system, the diminutive wages leave prison workers without any funds with which they can restart their lives in the free world. With the increasingly difficult environment in which ex-convicts search for jobs, many resort to illicit means to earn money. This results in their rearrest and the cycle begins anew.

“The ability to pay workers mere cents per day has caught the attention of many big businesses, as they resort to prison labor to cut costs and maximize profits.”

While the average minimum wage in the US sits at around $7.25 an hour, a loophole in the 13th Amendment has allowed for the use of ‘slave’ labor
 as a punishment for crimes. The ability to pay workers mere cents per day has caught the attention of many big businesses, as they resort to prison labor to cut costs and maximize profits. Companies like Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Shell utilize prison labor for their sole benefit. Prison labor does not prepare inmates for the outside world, and it definitely does not allow for personal economic growth that can jumpstart inmates’ lives post-prison. What it does, however, is allow for the exploitation of millions of Americans. The US prison industry is one of the country’s most lucrative enterprises, generating over $80 billion a year, and as long as it continues to function more as a business than a rehabilitation system, incarceration rates will continue to rise and big businesses will continue to grow off the use of legal slavery.


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