Modern Slavery – The Connection Between New Feudalism and Mass Incarceration

“If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t pulled the knife out; they won’t even admit that it’s there.”  

– Malcolm X

The link between our economic structure of new feudalism and the prison industrial complex is quite intimate. Corporations need to ensure a constant flow of cheap labor for maximum profit in savage capitalism, and they can do this by supporting politicians that allow maximum exploitation to occur in prisons. Conveniently, the structures of white supremacy are reinforced through this action too, as politicians such as Biden and Gingrich pushed through thinly veiled laws during the war on drugs that allowed police to disproportionately target people of color. Keep in mind that while I believe economic inequality and the forces driving it need to be addressed if we wish to tackle climate change and all of the other various challenges, mass incarceration and race have a closely interwoven story. I am going to try to keep my analysis on these topics to how they reinforce white supremacy and capital structures, systematically being used in our federalist system to disenfranchise certain communities.

Jim Freeman does a fantastic job of outlining how the wealthy have achieved maximum profit by exploiting us to maintain the status quo of white supremacy through capital exploitation. There has been an epidemic of public school closures in POC and low income communities due to increased charter school openings and voucher programs. This forces people who would otherwise have open access to educational materials such as books, computers, athletic facilities, and more, to pay out of pocket. Not only does it put strain on financial resources, many families that rely on busses for transportation while they work no longer have that option as private charters take over. Since the goal is to cut out as many extraneous costs in a for profit system, many schools will either charge more for bus services or simply cut them out.

This phenomenon is due to a few billionaires funding and pushing this privatization of education for their own profit; Gates, Zuckerberg, and Charles Koch alone have donated $3.2 billion across 50 different private school organizations. Public education is a $650 billion public system with many branches ripe with profitable fruit such as meals, medical equipment, sports facilities, or transportation, and these men are gorging themselves. Gates and Koch both funded a voucher program in Chicago that took access to free education away from many families, pushing them to charters such as Gates’ own school system SCRIPPS. This pet project was an affront to education and humanity for a number of reasons, one of these being that Gates’ schools used CIA psychological tactics that were developed to break prisoners, taking these practices of instilling fear, crafting rigid schedules, and doling out strict punishment into the classroom. 

Gates spent millions developing Common Core standards, a standardized evaluation widely regarded as abysmal. The problem with billionaires is that their interventions always entail creating a market to profit off of. In this sense none of these greedy heathens view children who are being educated as human, just a product to manipulate. Not surprisingly, all major Wall Street banks have special investment funds dedicated to profiting off of education, owning private service providers for charter schools (food service, etc.), management of the real estate that schools occupy, and most importantly; pushing tax breaks for ultra wealthy donors. Billionaires discovered they can make huge donations through non profit foundations and get their names in the paper while evading taxes. The irony is that if they did pay those taxes it would be more beneficial to the majority of families than their current self-serving donations.

The vision of private education that billionaires want would entail strictly regimented discipline and schedules, limited facilities to maximize profit, and huge class sizes with teachers that are on agendas approved by specific individuals. These types of structural changes would not only restrict the ability of students to interact on a face to face basis with teachers, they would hurt families that rely on after school programs, free meals, and busses. It cripples the quality of education and ability for poor families to even get their children there. Zuckerberg and others are even pushing for ‘cyber charters’ following the pandemic, throwing millions into programs that would keep a digital based model for children as young as 5 in kindergarten. Beyond destroying crucial social interaction, it takes the ability from families who lack internet or computer access; a large number in rural America and quite a few poor metro populations too. I can not stress how important education is, yet the upper class view our children as commodities to profit on without a care for their quality of life.

America’s prison industrial complex is humming right along, gladly taking in kids that dropped out of education and were failed by other institutions. Billionaires are not only driving a segregated vision of education based on who has access to pay for resources (naturally a white supremacist result in this country), they then profit off of the kids their systems fail; 2 million plus workers (more than 15 states’ populations) are basically free for corporations to use because of the laws that restrict pay for prisoners (see No. 89). These people lack rights and agency so hey, easy money in the free market right?

Prisoners are used to make the goods that feed our endless consumer capital cycle, and there are so few restrictions that Bloomberg was even able to use prison labor for his campaign calls. As with any money making opportunity, Wall Street has heavy investment in the prison industrial and probation systems, now called a treatment industrial complex. Overall it is cheaper for billionaires, the Fed, and Wall Street to just let the prison industrial complex churn because they make money off of it with criminally cheap, or free, labor, and they would have to risk losing money if they funded restorative programs instead. And this is what it boils down to ladies and gentlemen; modern day white supremacy continues dehumanizing people for the sake of savage capitalistic profit. We are so driven for continuous growth, hitting the next number on that ledger sheet, that it doesn’t matter if it is generated from holding children in concentration camps.

Privatizing service providers for ICE facilities has been a very lucrative business for Wall Street and defense contractors. Pretty much every big tech company has numerous contracts with ICE for their surveillance that keeps people in constant fear. Corporations maximize profits off of illegal immigrant labor because they aren’t recognized as human in America, so of course they are funding border policies that restrict immigration documentation and encourage an illegal entrance system. They want to keep exploiting desperate people, who are often fleeing a situation in their home country that the U.S. fucking caused in the first place; such as propping up any number of fascist dictators in Latin America. (Which was done for corporate wealth). Illegal immigration only hurts the working class, as they are competing against someone who is literally held to a lower caste and can’t complain about less pay. Obviously a company is going to hire that kind of worker if possible, as they want to maximize profit. 

Credit: The Atlantic.

The labor that incarcerated people are forced into is often 8 hour or more shifts that try to keep them on a “normal” work schedule, and is physically intensive with little rest. Many jobs take the form of janitorial duties for prison upkeep or working labor in fields that are on prison grounds. There are also “correctional industries” that are funded by state owned or private businesses, taking advantage of laborers who have no rights and using their labor to assemble goods for the profit of a company they will never see. The average prison labor salary is 86 cents an hour, down 7 cents since 2001. There are also hard caps in many states on the total wages that can be earned per day, and the average daily salary for prisoners is $3.45 today. This is down from a $4.73 average per day in 2001, and additionally at least 6 states (North Carolina, Texas, Arkansa, Alabama, Florida, Georgia) have common policies that don’t pay prisoners for the labor they do within the facility. This means picking fruit in a hot field for hours, scrubbing the base of every toilet in the facility, serving meals, or doing hundreds of peoples laundry pays exactly $0.00 to the inmates undertaking the job. 

The rates and chances to be paid are slightly better for inmates who get work with state owned businesses, falling between 33 cents and $1.41 per hour. However only 6% of prisoners are eligible for these wages, and they are still manufacturing products which provide huge profit margins for the government due to essentially slave labor producing them. Private industries partner with prisons through the PIE program, and again, wages have the potential to be a little higher than the majority of normal prison jobs. Though it is common practice that up to 80% of the money supposed to go to prisoners gets taken out by the private entity in the form of various fees. This is standard across all labor that prisoners are subjected to; once inmates actually get their wages paid to them, they nearly always find additional amounts deducted from the total no matter if it’s a normal prison upkeep job or manufacturing for private industry.

States like New Mexico deduct an automatic 20% of paychecks to go into a separate victim reparations fund, and still more states reserve the right to withhold prisoner’s payments entirely if there are any outstanding fines or fees from the legal system. This means that in reality prisoners are being held to mere pennies an hour, then seeing up to half of that $15 – $20 paycheck taken away before it even gets to them. Additionally, prisoners are expected to be able to purchase necessary hygiene products, phone cards to talk to family, and even their uniforms. It takes the average female prisoner two weeks to save up for a box of tampons in Colorado, and in states like Pennsylvania a $10 phone card would take up to 13 days of labor to pay for. 

Prison labor only increased during the pandemic as companies from Ferrero Rocher to Nestle switch to incarcerated sources so they can prevent paying higher wages as inflation hits. Commodity prices are sharply rising while average Americans have less money to survive on, yet companies are making better margins than ever by paying prisoners pennies, usually nothing that tangibly gets to them, to produce essential goods. These inmates could be serving years for something as simple as shoplifting or having a couple grams of marijuana, yet are subjected to the same awful conditions that our prison industrial complex enforces. When prisoners are released from their incarceration they have virtually no money in their name and have endured potentially years of trauma and violence. They are expected to leave and reintegrate into normal life as a reformed citizen while having all of these disadvantages. Imagine how hopeless you would feel if you were forced out onto the street with a few dollars, whatever possessions you had on you at the time of arrest, no sense of a normal schedule or routine, and years worth of abuse fresh on your mind.

Billionaires and the politicians who benefit from their riches are strategically supporting oppression by crafting disenfranchising legislation in order to keep making hundreds of millions. The total spending on American criminal justice and incarceration is $300 billion, broken down to $134,000 per person detained. Think about how many restorative practices and social welfare programs we could fund with that money to try and prevent crime from even happening. $150 billion goes to the police, who actively kill and brutalize our citizens with their fancy military grade weapons. The cost of oppressive systems like criminal justice and the prison industrial complex also disproportionately affects local governments, as they incur over half the costs of operation.

Studies have additionally shown that the broader societal costs of the prison industrial complex are $1.2 trillion per year when taking into account lost wages, health effects, and restricted opportunity. The educational loss per year due to these systems is estimated at $30 billion, and over $130 billion when looking at the broader effects of children’s trends for criminality in felon families. We see 10% of children in a family touched by the justice system fail to graduate high school, and even if they do there are further withheld opportunities for educational attainment. The offset cost on families due to our systemized racism is estimated at $26.7 billion, while child welfare costs are around $5.3 billion. 

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