Incarcerations Rates Among Founding NATO Members

Incarcerations Rates Among Founding NATO Members


Prison labor has been used in the United States since the late 18th century, with the most popular usage being agricultural labor. The labor of Black prisoners has replaced the labor of Black slaves, and in many cases to target unionized White workers and break strikes. This has resulted in violent clashes between organized labor and prison labor, and many Black prisoners (who have no protections, including no union protections) have died. Until the 20th century, the strength of trade unions was closely related to restrictions on the private use of prison labor (Kang, 2009; Thompson, 2012). Between 1970 and 2005, the U.S. prison population grew by 700%, mostly due to policy changes, such as Three-Strikes, Mandatory Minimum, and Truth in Sentencing laws (American Civil Liberties Union, 2011). Twenty to twenty-five percent of incarcerated people are locked up for nonviolent drug offenses, despite no change in drug use rates, with Blacks incarcerated for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites, despite the same rates of drug use (American Civil Liberties Union, 2017); further, many hundreds of youth are behind bars for technical violations that are not adult crimes (such as truancy) (Wagner & Rabuy, 2017).

In addition to having the largest incarcerated population in the world (1.6 million people in federal and state prisons, with another 3.8 million on




probation), there are close to 700,000 people held in pretrial jails—these are people who have not yet been convicted of any crime and thus are legally presumed innocent (Rabuy & Kopf, 2016). This translates to 70% of local jail population consisting of people who are unable to come up with the bail money needed (typically $10,000) to release them until their case is resolved. The Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows that in 2015 people in jail had median annual incomes of $15,109 prior to incarceration (with White men having the highest incomes and Black women having the lowest). Thus the detention of the legally innocent translates into greater housing of the poor in public jails, creating increased profits for corporations servicing jails, while simultaneously criminalizing the poor (Rabuy & Kopf, 2016).

In addition to government contracts and the use of public monies to pay for services provided to state and federal prisons, there is also corporate profiteering in the exploitation of prison laborers. Many people are unaware that the use of prisoners’ labor is a huge industry. The business of detaining immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers alone is a $2 billion industry from which private prisons stand to benefit the most from government contracts. For example, the private companies CoreCivic and the GEO Group run 90% of detention centers (American Civil Liberties Union, 2011; Gomez & Cataldo, 2016).

Corporations with huge financial stakes in profiting from mass incarceration include many of the corporations we are most familiar with, including Walmart, Hewlett-Packard, McDonald’s, and many others (Thompson, 2012). The contrast between free world and prison wages is startling. Federal prisoners are paid $0.12 to $1.15 per hour while state wages range between $0.13 and $0.32 cents per hour. These stand in stark contrast to the $7.25 minimum wage, or $13.04 an hour paid to furniture factory workers, or $10.95 per hour paid to textile workers in free world conditions (Thompson, 2012).

STOP: While some people believe that prisoners should work for reasons such as health, therapy, to learn discipline, a skill, be productive, and/or repay a debt to society, when they work for private for-profit corporations who do not pay them (or who grossly underpay for their labor), their efforts are not going towards self-improvement, the good of society as a whole, their families, or even to victims/victims’ families (in cases where victims exist). They are enslaved laborers for corporations earning profits for shareholders.




While not all prisoners are forced to work, most need to in order to afford very basic necessities including the ability to use a phone to speak to family members, for which they are charged (in many cases by private companies). Further, prisoners who choose not to work may lose the opportunity to reduce their sentences or be otherwise disciplined and can face prolonged isolation in their cells for up to 23 hours per day. Thus, many choose to work in conditions that can be toxic. For example, the BP oil corporation hired prisoners to clean up major oil spills, working the men on average 72 hours per week, and paying them little to nothing. These prisoners worked with little protection against the chemicals and crude oil, which can damage every system in the body (Thompson, 2012).

This creates important ethical questions for those among us who may be reluctant to purchase sweatshop- or prison labor–produced goods from so-called developing or third world countries (Kang, 2009), while having little knowledge about the conditions under which labor is exploited in the United States itself by American citizens.

Further, when thinking about the relationship between mass incarceration and corporate profits made from the prison industry, we are led back to the very definition of crime and whose crimes we are most likely to focus on, prosecute, and punish. For example, while Wall Street executives and bankers essentially defrauded and robbed millions of their homes and economic stability through illegal practices and caused a global economic crisis in 2008, they evaded major prosecutions (Pontell, Black, & Geis, 2014). Not only does this illustrate the social construction of crime and how we perceive, name, and prosecute crime, but it also illustrates how we define work, whose labor is visible and under what conditions, and who is seen as working hard and who isn’t. We can’t understand how these forces work together without considering class in relation to race and gender. This brings us back to the concept of intersectionality.

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