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Maine’s Prison System Turning 

Into Modern-Day Slave Plantations


The Civil War didn't end slavery, it perfected it.


By: David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, October 3, 2012


AUGUSTA, Maine - With the current economic downturn plaguing many in Maine who want to work, but are unable to find jobs, the Maine Department of Corrections is exacerbating the problem by providing inmate laborers at near slave labor wages that no Maine business or private sector employee can ever hope to compete with.

Prison laborers aren't just making license plates and building furniture, anymore. The Maine DOC has expanded the use of slave labor to data entry, computer repair and bridge maintenance, as well as overhauling military surplus vehicles for use by the Maine Warden Service.

According to Corrections Commissioner, Joe Ponte, inmate slave labor work crews in 2011 provided 39,201 hours for projects that ranged from remodeling offices to bridge maintenance for the Department of Transportation to clearing snow from the roofs of state and municipal buildings. In 2010 there were 22,890 hours of projects provided by the work crews. In the first six months of this year, the crews have provided 21,160 hours of projects.

While inmates aren't actually forced to work like slaves of the mid-1800's, they might as well be when considering the psychological coercion of remaining in a cell 23 hours out of the day as the alternative.

Some people don't see a problem with using inmate labor at slave labor rates of around 50 cents per hour. However, today's prison slave laborers are providing jobs and services that would have otherwise gone out to responsible, tax-paying businesses and employees who did not end up in the Maine prison system. Since it is those businesses and employees who support the Maine prison system with their taxes, they are finding they have less and less money to pay those taxes with as prison labor continually drives down their profits and ability to sustain successful businesses.

Commissioner Ponte uses an average base figure of $10.00 per hour to estimate the cost savings that prison labor provides the state; an estimate that can reach into the millions of dollars per year on projects and services that legitimate Maine businesses are no longer able to bid on.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick), who sits on the Criminal Justice Committee, and is former co-chairman of the panel, said there is a lot of misperception about the work crews. “Some criticize that they are taking away jobs,” Gerzofsky was quoted as saying in a recent Bangor Daily News article. “I don’t see it that way.” He then went on to describe how the slave labor program increases inmate moral, but said nothing to back up his belief that the prison jobs are not taking away from jobs in the private sector.

Across the country is no different. The profit motive for using prison labor is too great a temptation for cash-strapped states to not take advantage of. A $250 million proposal from private prison management company, Corrections Corporation of America, is asking 48 states to guarantee the corporation a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years. The proposal comes as states are struggling to reduce bloated prison populations and tight budgets. State officials argue the program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates. Corrections Corporation spokesman Steve Owen defended the company’s “investment initiative,” describing it as “an additional option” for cash-strapped states to consider.

The CCA proposal seeks to build upon a deal reached last fall in which the company purchased the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution from the state of Ohio for $72.7 million. Ohio’s deal requires the state to maintain a 90% occupancy rate.

“There is incredible immorality and corruption of the big prison companies lobbying state governments to give huge sentences to non-violent people so they can get your tax money housing them so they can work for twenty cents an hour, driving down everyone else's wages,” said syndicated radio talk show host, Alex Jones. “It is a genius plan. We now have the biggest prison population in the world and they're just getting started. People ask where are the concentration camps, here they are; these are the new slave camps and the so-called conservatives say, 'good, make them criminals work,' and then wonder why they themselves don't have a job or why they've had their pay cut. You can't compete against five million people in prison factories right now. You think we're just competing with Mexico, China and India for jobs now, think again. We're competing with five million prisoners plus and it's growing.”

Max Keiser is a computer software designer who created the virtual trading software now in use on Wall Street where computer programs running complicated algorithms do the trading with no human intervention. He explains how today's prison systems are being designed to create vast armies of slave laborers to benefit the states that imprison them. In what he calls a “Casino Gulag”, Keiser describes a system in Chinese prisons where prisoners are forced to play games online, like Facebook's “Farmville” which creates virtual products such as virtual strawberries or wheat (virtual means there are no real strawberries or wheat, just an image on a video game screen) within the video game which can then be purchased for real cash by other players in the multi-level, multi-player online games to augment their gaming habits. Those Chinese prisoners are also participating in gaming sites where life credits, digital swords or other trinkets are accrued then purchased with real money by other gamers in the world who want those credits in their game. The money is funneled through to the guards who then force the prisoners to continue gaming for days at a time to the financial benefit of the guards alone. “This is what's going to happen in America with companies like Zenga and others,” said Keiser. “You go to prison and as part of a deal with the prison operator you are forced to play games to earn the credits in the games that are then converted to real money.”

Currently, the United States collectively has over 40 million laws on the books in all the states, virtually guaranteeing everybody is at least guilty of something. Also, with the most lawyers per capita than any other country in the world, and now more prisoners per capita than any other country in the world, the U.S. is truly advancing to be the leader in prison slave labor globally. There is no plan to fund the prisons after the tax base that currently supports it dries up due to lack of employment or contracts on the outside.



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