Russell Hebets Sept. 13, 2013

Slaves working for a wage: wage-slavery. That describes most Americans, but it has an extra bite for inmates in U.S. prisons who slave for as little as 17 cents an hour, to a maximum of $2 per hour, and the real beneficiaries are large corporations. Most of the “highly skilled” inmates are convicted of non‑violent crimes. The US has the highest number of prisoners in the world, and corporations are taking advantage of it. Some of the major corporations which have invested in private prisons are: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, and Target Stores. It’s shocking how easily they moved in on the prisoners, and how little Americans are aware of this major change.

The US holds 25% of world’s prisoners yet it is only 5% of world population. Eugene Puryear talks to Abby Martin of Breaking the Set on about his book, ‘Shackled and Chained: Mass incarceration in Capitalistic America’. He points out that private prisons require certain number of people in the prisons for a period of time and not concerned with corrective programs or rehabilitation.

Most inmates are on convictions of drug possession with 5 to 10 year sentences. Many inmates suffer from mental illness, some from before incarceration and many as a result of prison conditions. What happens when they get back out? How can they return to a job and support their families? It’s very hard for most people to imagine actual prison conditions. Inmates don’t get to experience love or even affection. They are cut off from family life and are unable to support their families. It’s devastating, and it generates mental illness. Locking up non-violent offenders makes for a prosperous Prison Industrial complex, but it fails to make for a safe and prosperous society. Surely, we have the ability to design programs to empower individuals, fix their lives and help citizens, build trust in our government, especially the racial groups which have been targeted by the police. So far, we have allowed far too many private for-profit corporations to run the prison systems. These companies focus on profit rather than rehabilitation, which is in the interest of their bottom line but not in the interests of the broader society. As a society, we need to reform prisons, so we can ensure the well-being of the general population.

It is refreshing to see one local non-profit organization – Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition – that is working to reform prison incarceration and to reduce recidivism.It is comprised of a coalition of 100 organizations and faith communities in Colorado.