There is a lot of controversy surrounding the prison industrial complex situation in the United States, and that has been the case for several decades now. However, what has ridden under the radar for far too long is just how deep the corruption rides.
For one student at Michigan State University, she saw the perfect opportunity to bring the conversation to the forefront of ethics and morals in modern America by using a Twitter thread to shed some light on how the for-profit prison industry in America is utilizing a "loophole" in the 13th Amendment to perpetuate modern day slavery within the full, legal scope of the law.
Some have argued "loophole" isn't the correct word, but reading the 13th amendment may help you understand where this Twitter thread is about to take you:
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.
In an article posted by Duke Undergraduate Law Magazine, they assert that this terminology makes it clear that incarcerated persons don’t have constitutional rights under the 13th Amendment – they can be compelled to work for as little as $1 an hour!
Andrea Armstrong, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans told History:
What we see after the passage of the 13th Amendment is a couple of different things converging. irst, the 13th Amendment text allows for involuntary servitude where convicted of a crime. At the same time, “black codes” in the south created “new types of offenses, especially attitudinal offenses—not showing proper respect, those types of things.
Armstrong goes on to argue that the 13th Amendment makes an exception for “involuntary servitude,” not “slavery,” and that there are important historical and legal distinctions between the two. Regrettably, she also says that no court has formally dealt with this distinction, and many courts have used to two terms interchangeably.
Even worse... in 1871, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a convicted person was “a slave of the State.”
Corporate America loves this loophole and it was a breeze for history to make it's way here.
Via Duke Undergraduate Law Magazine:
This form of coerced prison labor has its roots in one of the most exploitative labor systems known in American history – the convict lease system. Effectively, states who claimed they were too poor to maintain state convicts within prison walls were allowed to contract their prisoners out to private businesses, planters, and industrialists. Leasing businesses cut down on labor costs; prisons received a handsome profit, and prisoners are forcibly exploited under abusive conditions.
In her book, The New Jim Crow, author Michele Alexander explains how slavery was replaced with the Jim Crow system. She also goes on to explain how after the Civil War, new offenses like “malicious mischief” were vague, and could be a felony or misdemeanor depending on the supposed severity of behavior, which was determined by the white men in power. She also says that these laws sent more black people to prison than ever before, and by the late 19th century the country experienced its first “prison boom."
The criminal justice system was strategically employed to force African Americans back into a system of extreme repression and control, a tactic that would continue to prove successful for generations to come.
In 1941, convict leasing was formally abolished by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sadly, its impacts still linger in prison labor programs today because of the 13th Amendment’s exclusion. Incarcerated persons still lack a constitutional right to be free of forced servitude. Private prisons are taking advantage of this, legally, to capitalize on this using coerced prison labor as a way to minimize costs and maximize profits for its shareholders.
According to Duke Undergraduate Law Magazine, "prisoners can even be forced to work under threat of punishment, such as solitary confinement and revocation of family visitation rights."
Duke Undergraduate Magazine writes:
The average wage per hour for incarcerated workers in non-industry jobs ranged from a low of $0.14 to a high of $0.63, while it ranged from a low of $0.33 to a high of $1.41 in correctional industries. However, unlike other workers across the U.S., prison laborers aren’t granted protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act and National Relations Act. Thus, private prisons are able to continue exploiting their inmates under unfair practices for the pursuit of profit.
The Michigan student gives an example that is impossible to ignore, sharing how a grocery store that millions shop at takes advantage of this system. Whole Foods generated global net sales to the value of 16.03 billion U.S. dollars in 2017's fiscal year.
However, when it became "widely known" what Whole Foods was doing, they stopped sourcing foods that are produced using prison labor. But that hasn't stopped a whole lot of other major corporations citizens patron daily from exploiting this loophole.
If you're a fan of Orange Is The New Black, then you might recall in later seasons the prison employs prisoners to sew lace panties for chump change compared to what they sell the products for. That's a real-life parallel to Victoria's Secret. Victoria's Secret profits over $3 billion a year.
It's not just produce and panties, either. AT&T transferred call center employment to the prison industry.
The Twitter thread resonated with a LOT of people and even more information began flooding in from multiple sources.
"Loophole" is the wrong word.
As the facts continue to break down, the information becomes more appalling.
Who is in charge of who?
The tough questions: "Why weed?"
Another sting about how royally screwed citizens are? The tax loophole.
Yet... some people remain divided.
Some people recognize the only way to avoid slavery is to land yourself in a federal prison. Joke or not, the fact that you might be better off being convicted of a federal crime and doing more time than being shoved into slavery in the for-profit, private prison system is startling.
Some people are under the assumption that inmates would rather work for pennies on the dollar (if that,) than do nothing at all, thus justifying the act.
Others remain startled that this system even exists.
And there is always a group of people who will dismiss human rights violations if someone isn't living life to their legal standards, completely negating the fact that 22% of prison inmates are there for drug offences, many of which... are inconsequential marijuana charges.
So, do you truly give up your right to be treated fair and justly regardless of the crime committed? Is it fair that this precise system is not only exploiting prison inmates but also not remotely passing their billions in profits off to their employees and communities? All while they pay next to zilch in taxes? Does the whole system really sound fair or justifiable simply because someone broke the law? That's the real stretch...
Yet people continue to dehumanize prisoners and excuse corporate greed.
The situation really doesn't seem complex... it is clearly corrupt.