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Alabama's HB56, a wide-sweeping anti-migrant law, has proven so economically devastating (duh) that farmers are seeking legislation to force hard labor upon inmates eligible for work release programs, to "help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor."

Alabama isn't the only state, or entity for that matter, to practice such...opportunism.

Join me over the flip~

Alabama has one of the harshest anti-migrant laws in the country, on par with Arizona's law, which has forced migrants to flee the state to avoid imprisonment, causing a predictable shortage of farm labor.  As was argued ad nauseum by Democrats, Americans simply do not want to do the hard work of farm labor, which Repubicans were so sure would be the opposite.  Thus, Alabama farmers are scrambling to obtain cheaply as possible.

Alabama farmers have proposed using prisoners to work their fields to replace migrants who fled the state after it passed the country’s harshest anti-immigration law, officials said Tuesday.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industry officials met Tuesday in Mobile with farmers to discuss their proposal, a spokeswoman for the department told AFP.

“The suggestion to use prisoners who are eligible for work release programs was made as a way to help farmers fill the gap and find sufficient labor,” said Amy Belcher.

In a refreshing display of sanity, the Alabama Department of Corrections unit isn't having any of it:

...the Alabama Department of Corrections says most of its 2,000 inmates who are eligible for work are busy already.

Prison spokesman Brian Corbett says the state has about 2,000 work-release prisoners, and most already have jobs.

Corbett says the prison system isn't the solution to worker shortages caused by the law.

Rachel Maddow blog.

Georgia basically calls Alabama's passage of HB56 forehead-slapping:

In fact, some in Georgia were amazed Alabama did not learn from their mistakes before implementing an immigration law that jeopardized agricultural and construction industries. “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped. Have you all not been paying attention?’” said Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

The Alabama AG has called for a repealof the most egregious provisions.

Using prisoner labor for private farming operations isn't new.  For example, Idaho has used prison labor for potato farms for nearly a decade. The Wall Street Journal extolled the benefits of prison labor on farms saying inmates are "enthusiastic" about their jobs, and the prison-farm business model:

"We're fortunate, we're near a prison here," said Frank van Straalen, chief operating officer of Eurofresh Farms, a Wilcox, Ariz., company employing about 1,200 workers in its greenhouses, about a third of them contracted from Arizona Corrections Industries. Mr. van Straalen said that even with wages as high as $12.50 per hour, few native-born Americans seek jobs in his greenhouses, and the few who do usually quit. Prison laborers are paid around $7.35 per hour, he said.

In reality, corporate prison labor exploits prisoners by forcing them to work, or face longer prison terms or loss of "good time".  

Inmates can't pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned "good time." The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: "If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of." This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer.

Huge corporations are also capitalizing on the dirt cheap wages of prison labor: take BP in the Gulf oil spill disaster.

Coastal residents, many of whom had just seen their livelihoods disappear, expressed outrage at community meetings; why should BP be using cheap or free prison labor when so many people were desperate for work? The outfits disappeared overnight....Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced—and they get lucrative tax write-offs in the process.
Not surprisingly, the majority of prison laborers in the Gulf oil spill were black:
Work crews in Grand Isle, Louisiana, still stand out. In a region where nine out of ten residents are white, the cleanup workers are almost exclusively African-American men. The racialized nature of the cleanup is so conspicuous that Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, sent a public letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward on July 9, demanding to know why black people were over-represented in "the most physically difficult, lowest paying jobs, with the most significant exposure to toxins."

Prison labor-for-profit is possible due to the passage of the Prisons Industries Act (PIE) and its agency, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.
ALEC has been instrumental in the prison-population-boom due to its influence in the passage of stricter sentencing guidelines, privatizing the bail bond and parole processes, and creating private for-profit prisons, which have benefitted two corporations that are major ALEC corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections), the largest private prison firms in the country. (Same link)

Apparently,this is becoming a trend in Republican-led states: under Scott Walker's anti-union leadership, one Wisconsin county has replaced union workers with prison inmates; Georgia has also considered using prison labor for...firefighters.  

Something that I found personally hilariously ironic:  Human Rights Watch recently reported that Cambodia drafted a similar provision to that of Alabama's Agriculture Board, to permit prison labor to be used for goods made by private firms, and urged the Senate to strike it, citing obligations under the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions against forced labor. Private corporations skirt around this with "exported goods," allowing corporate profit from prisoner labor to remain unabated.

Here is a great post written by Bob Sloan last year, documenting prison labor used by corporations.

In conclusion:

Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages. They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises. Inmates work full-time and are never late or absent because of family problems.

Originally posted to CanyonWren on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 08:53 AM PST.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project and Kos Georgia.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Legalized slavery, back in business? (10+ / 0-)

    It would have to be a state like Alabama. Those farmers will never learn.

    There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death. -- Isaac Asimov

    by tytalus on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 09:00:46 AM PST

    •  maybe but i am sure (4+ / 0-)

      wallstreet will happily invest in those states.
      as big money allways has.
      oh and correct me if i am wrong but even the constitution(or was it the bill of rights" is fine with that.

      •  How any democrat can support slavery (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CanyonWren, gerald 1969

        conditions in the form of illegal immigration is beyond me.

        If there is a section of the population that employers can exploit due to their illegal status, it is no different than allowing slavery.

        Any farm that cannot survive without raising the salary enough to attract legal labor, then the business model is not viable and the farm should close.

    •  Exactly. (11+ / 0-)

      Alabama has a long history of Slavery By Another Name

      Coming to PBS – In 2012
      tpt National Productions is developing Slavery by Another Name, a multi-part PBS project based upon the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journal writer Douglas Blackmon.

      National Productions is developing Slavery by Another Name, a multi-part PBS project based upon the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journal writer Douglas Blackmon.

      Based on Blackmon’s research into original documents and personal narratives, Slavery by Another Name unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after Emancipation and then back into involuntary servitude. It also tells stories of courage and redemption, and the men and women who fought against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking.

      The Age of Neo-Slavery

      In this groundbreaking historical expose, Douglas A. Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history—when a cynical new form of slavery was resurrected from the ashes of the Civil War and re-imposed on hundreds of thousands of African-Americans until the dawn of World War II.

      Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude. Government officials leased falsely imprisoned blacks to small-town entrepreneurs, provincial farmers, and dozens of corporations—including U.S. Steel Corp.—looking for cheap and abundant labor. Armies of "free" black men labored without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced through beatings and physical torture to do the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery.

      The neoslavery system exploited legal loopholes and federal policies which discouraged prosecution of whites for continuing to hold black workers against their wills. As it poured millions of dollars into southern government treasuries, the new slavery also became a key instrument in the terrorization of African Americans seeking full participation in the U.S. political system.

      Based on a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude. It also reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the modern companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the system’s final demise in the 1940s, partly due to fears of enemy propaganda about American racial abuse at the beginning of World War II.

      SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME is a moving, sobering account of a little-known crime against African Americans, and the insidious legacy of racism that reverberates today.

      I'm from the Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner Wing of the Democratic Party!

      by TomP on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 09:26:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Slavery never stopped being in business, it just (2+ / 0-)

      changes forms. Currently, most slaves don't even see their chains, unless they're in one of those private prison labor joints. The more in debt you have,  the less secure you become, the fewer opportunities you have, then the more like a slavery your lifestyle is. For most, it's the inevitable conclusion of the current economic situation and austerity BS, unless something changes the direction.

      Go OWS!!

      "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies." - Moshe Dayan (on my tea bag). I'm not your enemy, but you may still talk to me. Keep those good ideas coming I always say...

      by ocular sinister on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 09:30:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I found it interesting that Idaho has been doing (4+ / 0-)

      this for years, and likely was Alabama's inspiration.  Also interesting that Alabama's Dept. of Corrections said all their prisoners are "busy already." LOLs.

      Republicans...What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. Der Spiegel

      by CanyonWren on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 09:42:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  geezzus (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP, CanyonWren

    there seems to be a bright vision in the gop
    how to get to full employment.
    btw i recently read an article on bloomberg about the reintroduction of debt prisoners.
    oh and there is a documantation called prison valley
    on youtube (i just found a german or french version)
    which i saw here in germany on arte (french german public tv station)
    in which was claimed that all car number plates in the USA are made today by inmates gettin 5 bucks a day.
    but you have to say it is a way to get competetive with china again (snark)

    •  Just tried to find that, and was unsuccessful (0+ / 0-)

      If you could provide the link, I'd love to read it (the Bloomberg article).  Thanks for the Prison Valley reference, I'll check it out; this is true about license plates.  Prisoner labor isn't in and of itself repugnant: in fact, many find it gratifying and a sense of purpose in working.  I'd rather they work doing something for the 'masses'/government than a private business, just on principle.

      Republicans...What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. Der Spiegel

      by CanyonWren on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 09:50:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  upps wasnt bloomberg (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        it was the wsj

        •  Yikes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gerald 1969

          This is unsettling:

          After being handcuffed in front of his four children, Mr. Stearns, 29 years old, spent two nights in jail, where he said he was strip-searched and sprayed for lice. Court records show he was released after agreeing to pay $1,500 to the loan company. "I didn't even know I was being sued," he said, though he doesn't dispute owing the money. "It's the scariest thing that ever happened to me."

          Mr. Stearns said he never got the summons or two orders to show up before a judge that a deputy sheriff said in court filings were delivered to him. Hancock County Sheriff Mark Shepherd couldn't be reached for comment. Mark Herr, an AIG spokesman, declined to comment on Mr. Stearns but said the lending unit was sold in November.

          Republicans...What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. Der Spiegel

          by CanyonWren on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 12:43:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        I'd rather they work doing something for the 'masses'/government than a private business, just on principle.

         that is a big difrence between
        germany and the usa, here in germany we let them work or learn a job to be prepared for the time after prison which does for sure not allways work, whike in the usa it more like paying back their guilt to the society.
        but he danger is when you have judges like the one in texas who was "bribed" for sending kids to the local jail.
  •  Probably ought to quickly arrest and incarcerate (5+ / 0-)

    those foreign laborers before they leave the state.

    Provided the farmers want "experienced" harvesters on their chain gang.

    Notice: This Comment © 2011 ROGNM

    by ROGNM on Thu Dec 08, 2011 at 09:27:26 AM PST

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