The Truth About Chain Gangs And Convict Labor

.. year, but fled on bond. (Johnson 20) Those people that argue prisons are not harsh enough, do not consider how much some people suffer. Brown is hurt from asthma and high blood pressure. He also is missing a kidney after being a victim of a mugging twenty years ago and he is also sightless in one eye.

His family is worried that the seventy-five year old man will die in prison. (Johnson 20) Corrections cost the United States twenty-five billion dollars a year, which gives a need for inmates to earn wages and help pay for the cost of holding them. The problem is that this may be threatening the jobs of average citizens. (Cohen 76) Even though unemployment is extremely low at this time, people worry that the prison industries will take many jobs from the uneducated and unskilled citizens. By charging inmates for prison-construction costs, the public is happy their taxes are not going to prisoners. “Tax payers like the idea that we dont allow prisoners to profit from their crimes,” says Attorney General Frank. (Paventi 26) Something that many people do not know is that once prisons charge inmates for a stay one year, that extra money is automatically deducted from the next budget.

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Some institutions are finding that it may cost them more to charge inmates for their stay. Some items that prisoners need, they have to pay for. American prisoners usually have to pay for their own toiletries, under wear, socks, cigarettes, and stationery. They also have to buy more food than what they are served just to live. (Paventi 26). Some items like the cigarettes can be extremely expensive to get in prisons. This has created severe problems of corruption in some prisons. page 6 A new way that some states are trying to save tax dollars is to charge for all court costs. In Virginia if someone loses a jury trial, he or she must pay for the whole trial.

(Paventi 26) A man named Kenneth Stewart owes $57,756.20 for his trial. (Paventi 27) He needs some teeth pulled too, which he must also pay for. (Paventi 26) This proves that inmates have to work. Since the inmates are not protected by most laws they can be paid extremely low wages. The amount of money inmates are paid is much lower than minimum-wage. At the Minnesota correctional facility, entry-level workers take home about forty cents per hour.

(Cohen 76) With such low pay prisoners have to work long hours to be able to afford the expensive items that they need to live. The biggest concern with convict labor is whether or not it takes average citizens jobs. Many people worry that convict labor will take jobs, but many of the tasks prisoners do, will not affect American jobs. People worry about a few million prisoners getting jobs while over twenty-seven million people on welfare are being forced to find jobs and nobody seems to worry about them. (Paventi 27) Most people do not realize unemployment is low at this time. Some benefits for allowing prisoners to work include: enhanced mental health, reduced violence, more family support, preserved marriages, and increased restitution to the victims of crime.

(“Let the Prisoners Work” 14) Another good fact is that only 6.6 percent of convicts who worked in prisons had their parole revoked or were charged with a crime during their first year of release. (M. O. Reynolds 58) This is lower than the 10.1 percent of rearrest of prisoners who did not work in prison. (M. O.

Reynolds 58) Alabamas commisioner for prisons believes the prison industries has made a”life of luxury” for the inmates. She thinks a prison should be more harsh so it will deter future crimes. The problem is that prisoners who do not work lose any hope and are more likely to be hostile and later be rearrested. (Brownstein 179) Many experts agree with this view. Ron Humphrey said that “prisoners need to work so they will not go nuts”.

Minnesota had one of the lowest rates of prison violence in the nation when the inmates were working. (“Let the Prisoners Work” 14) Maybe if we concentrate on keeping the prisoners from returning, we would not have to worry about our jobs being taken. Sometimes prison labor is not a good idea. Some issues like security problems, high turnover, lack of skills, poor work habits and remote prison locations can make prison labor more expensive. (M.

O. Reynolds 58) Another problem includes prejudices. Chain gangs are supposed to be well integrated, but in Alabama it is common for a chain gang to be ninety percent black. (Brownstein 179) The prison commissioner of Alabama thought about putting women in chain gangs after male inmates filed a federal lawsuit claiming discrimination. (“Great Moments in Penology” 207) She almost lost her job because nobody else wanted women on chain gangs. One way people are trying to stop chain gangs is to prove that they are unconstitutional.

Some people believe that chain gangs are humiliating and degrading page 7 to inmates, which is against the eighth amendment, preventing cruel and unusual punishment. (Brownstein 179) Many prisoners are illiterate and have lower Intelligence Quotients (IQ), which poses a problem. Some of the jobs that inmates would do require a higher intelligence. Most people in prisons did not make it far in school so they do not know how to do much. Some prisoners with high IQs including counterfeiters, kidnappers, and drug smugglers may be alright though. (M.

O. Reynolds 58) The jobs inmates do vary, but long hours seems to be common. Last year in Alabama over seven hundred medium security prisoners were forced to work ten hours a day breaking rocks and picking up trash along highways. If they are disobedient they are handcuffed to a post with their arms raised in the air. (Brownstein 179) A prisoner named Ron Humphey works an eight-hour day as a computer-systems manager and then works another four hours after dinner.

(“Let the Prisoners Work” 14) This is much better than sitting around doing nothing to him. When most prisoners work they feel at least some sense of worth, which raises their spirit. For a long time prisoners have worked, but most of their labor was for the government of nonprofit agencies. This was done to prevent competition between inmates and the American public. That is why prisoners are known for producing license plates. Currently there are enough people making license plates so other jobs are needed.

Some major companies are involved in the one-hundred plus companies that have thousands of inmate employees in twenty-nine states. (Cohen 76) The jobs that prisoners now do varies greatly. “Inmates in South Carolina make lingerie for Victorias Secret and graduation gowns for Jostens.” Prisoners also wrap software for Microsoft and make electronic circuit boards for IBM. (Cohen 76) Research has shown that the imprisonment rates vary from state to state and among the many different countries. This causes people to wonder what is being done different. (Selke 4) Nobody can seem to figure out what is best for our prison system. There is no clear answer to whether or not the United States should have convict labor.

There are several reasons that suggest we should have convict labor including: the good emotional effect working has on inmates, the money taxpayers save because inmates can pay for their stay, and the easier ability for inmates to find jobs after prison. There are also many reasons to not have convict labor like: the chance that convict labor will take jobs from average citizens, convict labor may actually cost more, and the corruption and prejudice involved. This issue will continue to be argued each year as prisons continue to grow. Works Cited Brownstein, Rhonda. “Chain Gangs are Cruel and Unusual Punishment.” Corrections Today.

(April, 1996): 179. Proquest. Online. Internet. 1998 Cohen, Warren.

“Need Work? Go to Jail.” US News and World Report. December 9, 1996: 76-77 “Great Moments in Penology.” Fortune. (May 27, 1996): 207. Proquest. Online. Internet.

1998 Ingley, Gwen Smith. “Inmate Labor: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Corrections Today. (February 1996): 28-31. Proquest. Online. Internet.

1998 Johnson, John H. “Man Who Escaped Virginia Chain Gang Back in Jail After 42 Years.” Jet. April 13, 1998: 20 “Let the Prisoners Work: Crime Doesnt Pay, But Prison Labor Can Benefit Everyone.” Christianity Today. (February 9, 1998): 14. Proquest. Online. Internet. 1998 Paventi, Christian.

“Pay Now, Pay Later: States Impose Prison Peonage.”. The Progressive. (July 1996): 26-30. Proquest. Online. Internet.

1998 Reynolds, Marylee N. “Back on the Chain Gang.” Corrections Today. (April 1996): 180-184. Proquest. Online.

Internet. 1998 Reynolds, Morgan O. “The Economics of Prison Industries: The Products of Our Prison.” Vital Speeches of the Day. (November 1, 1996): 58. Proquest. Online.

Internet. 1998 Selke, William L. Prisons in Crisis. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1993. page 8.