[Marxism] The Prison-Industrial Complex

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 25 10:15:39 MDT 2014

The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like 
system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of 
African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent 
second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil 
Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on 
the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the 
“secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, 
including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in 
universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons 
nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant 
to face.

full: http://newjimcrow.com


NY Times, May 25 2014
Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor

HOUSTON — The kitchen of the detention center here was bustling as a 
dozen immigrants boiled beans and grilled hot dogs, preparing lunch for 
about 900 other detainees. Elsewhere, guards stood sentry and managers 
took head counts, but the detainees were doing most of the work — 
mopping bathroom stalls, folding linens, stocking commissary shelves.

As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country 
illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of 
thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — 
usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are 
held when caught by the authorities.

This work program is facing increasing resistance from detainees and 
criticism from immigrant advocates. In April, a lawsuit accused 
immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., of putting detainees in 
solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and hunger 
strike. In Houston, guards pressed other immigrants to cover shifts left 
vacant by detainees who refused to work in the kitchen, according to 
immigrants interviewed here.

The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a 
cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is 
truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private 
prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the 
rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.

Last year, at least 60,000 immigrants worked in the federal government’s 
nationwide patchwork of detention centers — more than worked for any 
other single employer in the country, according to data from United 
States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The cheap 
labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies 
$40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside 
contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Some immigrants held at 
county jails work for free, or are paid with sodas or candy bars, while 
also providing services like meal preparation for other government 

Unlike inmates convicted of crimes, who often participate in prison work 
programs and forfeit their rights to many wage protections, these 
immigrants are civil detainees placed in holding centers, most of them 
awaiting hearings to determine their legal status. Roughly half of the 
people who appear before immigration courts are ultimately permitted to 
stay in the United States — often because they were here legally, 
because they made a compelling humanitarian argument to a judge or 
because federal authorities decided not to pursue the case.

“I went from making $15 an hour as a chef to $1 a day in the kitchen in 
lockup,” said Pedro Guzmán, 34, who had worked for restaurants in 
California, Minnesota and North Carolina before he was picked up and 
held for about 19 months, mostly at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, 
Ga. “And I was in the country legally.”

Mr. Guzmán said that he had been required to work even when he was 
running a fever, that guards had threatened him with solitary 
confinement if he was late for his 2 a.m. shift, and that his family had 
incurred more than $75,000 in debt from legal fees and lost income 
during his detention. A Guatemalan native, he was released in 2011 after 
the courts renewed his visa, which had mistakenly been revoked, in part 
because of a clerical error. He has since been granted permanent residency.

Claims of Exploitation

Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use 
of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal 
officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut 
expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year.

“The program allows detainees to feel productive and contribute to the 
orderly operation of detention facilities,” said Gillian M. Christensen, 
a spokeswoman for the immigration agency. Detainees in the program are 
not officially employees, she said, and their payments are stipends, not 
wages. No one is forced to participate, she added, and there are usually 
more volunteers than jobs.

Marian Martins, 49, who was picked up by ICE officers in 2009 for 
overstaying her visa and sent to Etowah County Detention Center in 
Gadsden, Ala., said work had been her only ticket out of lockdown, where 
she was placed when she arrived without ever being told why.

Ms. Martins said she had worked most days cooking meals, scrubbing 
showers and buffing hallways. Her only compensation was extra free time 
outside or in a recreational room, where she could mingle with other 
detainees, watch television or read, she said.

“People fight for that work,” said Ms. Martins, who has no criminal 
history. “I was always nervous about being fired, because I needed the 
free time.”

Ms. Martins fled Liberia during the civil war there and entered the 
United States on a visitor visa in 1990. She stayed and raised three 
children, all of whom are American citizens, including two sons in the 
Air Force. Because of her deteriorating health, she was released from 
detention in August 2010 with an electronic ankle bracelet while 
awaiting a final determination of her legal status.

Natalie Barton, a spokeswoman for the Etowah detention center, declined 
to comment on Ms. Martins’s claims but said that all work done on site 
by detained immigrants was unpaid, and that the center complied with all 
local and federal rules.

The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone 
era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the 
pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be 
about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted 
not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair 
Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an 
appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not 
government ‘employees.’ ”

Immigrants in holding centers may be in the country illegally, but they 
may also be asylum seekers, permanent residents or American citizens 
whose documentation is questioned by the authorities. On any given day, 
about 5,500 detainees out of the 30,000-plus average daily population 
work for $1, in 55 of the roughly 250 detention facilities used by ICE. 
Local governments operate 21 of the programs, and private companies run 
the rest, agency officials said.

These detainees are typically compensated with credits toward food, 
toiletries and phone calls that they say are sold at inflated prices. 
(They can collect cash when they leave if they have not used all their 
credits.) “They’re making money on us while we work for them,” said Jose 
Moreno Olmedo, 25, a Mexican immigrant who participated in the hunger 
strike at the Tacoma holding center and was released on bond from the 
center in March. “Then they’re making even more money on us when we buy 
from them at the commissary.”

A Legal Gray Area

Some advocates for immigrants express doubts about the legality of the 
work program, saying the government and contractors are exploiting a 
legal gray area.

“This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from 
hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of 
undocumented immigrants in the country,” said Carl Takei, a lawyer with 
the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern 
University, said she believed the program violated the 13th Amendment, 
which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment 
for crime. “By law, firms contracting with the federal government are 
supposed to match or increase local wages, not commit wage theft,” she said.

Immigration officials underestimate the number of immigrants involved 
and the hours they work, Professor Stevens added. Based on 
extrapolations from ICE contracts she has reviewed, she said, more than 
135,000 immigrants a year may be involved, and private prison companies 
and the government may be avoiding paying more than $200 million in 
wages that outside employers would collect.

A 2012 report by the A.C.L.U. Foundation of Georgia described 
immigrants’ being threatened with solitary confinement if they refused 
certain work. Also, detainees said instructions about the program’s 
voluntary nature were sometimes given in English even though most of the 
immigrants do not speak the language.

Eduardo Zuñiga, 36, spent about six months in 2011 at the Stewart 
Detention Center in Georgia, awaiting deportation to Mexico. He had been 
detained after being stopped at a roadblock in the Atlanta area because 
he did not have a driver’s license and because his record showed a 
decade-old drug conviction for which he had received probation.

At Stewart, Mr. Zuñiga worked in the kitchen and tore ligaments in one 
of his knees after slipping on a newly mopped floor, leaving him unable 
to walk without crutches. Despite doctors’ orders to stay off the leg, 
Mr. Zuñiga said, the guards threatened him with solitary confinement if 
he did not cover his shifts. Now back in Mexico, he said in a phone 
interview that he must walk with a leg brace.

Gary Mead, who was a top ICE administrator until last year, said the 
agency scrutinized contract bids from private companies to ensure that 
they did not overestimate how much they could depend on detainees to run 
the centers.

Detainees cannot work more than 40 hours a week or eight hours a day, 
according to the agency. They are limited to work that directly 
contributes to the operation of their detention facility, said Ms. 
Christensen, the agency spokeswoman, and are not supposed to provide 
services or make goods for the outside market.

But that rule does not appear to be strictly enforced.

At the Joe Corley Detention Facility north of Houston, about 140 
immigrant detainees prepare about 7,000 meals a day, half of which are 
shipped to the nearby Montgomery County jail. Pablo E. Paez, a spokesman 
for the GEO Group, which runs the center, said his company had taken it 
over from the county in 2013 and was working to end the outside meal 

Near San Francisco, at the Contra Costa West County Detention Facility, 
immigrants work alongside criminal inmates to cook about 900 meals a day 
that are packaged and trucked to a county homeless shelter and nearby jails.

A Booming Business

While President Obama has called for an overhaul of immigration law, his 
administration has deported people — roughly two million in the last 
five years — at a faster pace than any of his predecessors. The 
administration says the sharp rise in the number of detainees has been 
partly driven by a requirement from Congress that ICE fill a daily quota 
of more than 30,000 beds in detention facilities. The typical stay is 
about a month, though some detainees are held much longer, sometimes for 

Detention centers are low-margin businesses, where every cent counts, 
said Clayton J. Mosher, a professor of sociology at Washington State 
University, Vancouver, who specializes in the economics of prisons. Two 
private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America and the 
GEO Group, control most of the immigrant detention market. Many such 
companies struggled in the late 1990s amid a glut of private prison 
construction, with more facilities built than could be filled, but a 
spike in immigrant detention after Sept. 11 helped revitalize the industry.

The Corrections Corporation of America’s revenue, for example, rose more 
than 60 percent over the last decade, and its stock price climbed to 
more than $30 from less than $3. Last year, the company made $301 
million in net income and the GEO Group made $115 million, according to 
earnings reports.

Prison companies are not the only beneficiaries of immigrant labor. 
About 5 percent of immigrants who work are unpaid, ICE data show. 
Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio, said his county saved 
at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year by relying on about 40 detainees 
each month for janitorial work. “All I know is it’s a lot of money 
saved,” he said.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration 
Studies, an advocacy group that promotes greater controls on 
immigration, said that with proper monitoring, the program had its 
advantages, and that the criticisms of it were part of a larger effort 
to delegitimize immigration detention.

Some immigrants said they appreciated the chance to work. Minsu Jeon, 
23, a South Korean native who was freed in January after a monthlong 
stay at an immigration detention center in Ocilla, Ga., said that while 
he thought the pay was unfair, working as a cook helped pass the time.

“They don’t feed you that much,” he added, “but you could eat food if 
you worked in the kitchen.”

Kristina Rebelo contributed reporting from San Diego, and Kitty Bennett 
contributed research from St. Petersburg, Fla.

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