Corporate Exploitation of Prison Labor Reaches Deep into the Supply Chain

Although we may only be familiar with a handful of these corporations, many others are suppliers to top-tier brands who are not PIECP participants. Dickinson Frozen Foods uses prison labor to package potatoes and distribute them later. household food brandsLike Pillsbury and Campbell Soup. Seat King is a supplier for industrial lawn mower manufacturer Husqvarna. SemahTronix sells wire harnesses. GE and Philips.

Many corporations are able to keep their names out these quarterly reports by operating in states that don’t allow correctional administrators to reveal their corporate partners when reporting PIECP data the NCIA. That’s how prison labor champion 3M has evaded scrutinyFor many years, Minnesota has listed the name of the facility as well as a general description of the product in its reports.

Wages are only one part of the story

PIECP is used by corporations to use prison labor. required to pay prevailing wagesThe minimum wage cannot be lower than the minimum wage, but they are rarely higher. Low wages are only part of the equation. Participating corporations don’t have to pay for workers compensation or benefits, worry about employee grievances, or concern themselves with absenteeisms.

The following are some of the benefits of prison labor: owner of Lockhart Technologies, a corporation that partnered with private prison operator GEO Group in the mid-90s to use prison labor to manufacture electronic and computer parts, put it bluntly: “Normally when you work in the free world, you have people call in sick, they have car problems, they have family problems. We don’t have that [in prison.]” Indeed, Lockhart saw such immense savings in personnel costs with prison labor that it shut down an outside plant.

And it’s not just participating corporations that cash out. The government can garnish PIECP wages for a variety reasons. According to NCIA’s data, since the program’s inception, incarcerated workers in PIECP jobs have earned $990 million in gross wages and had $582 million, or 59%, garnished. The largest garnishments by far – $315 million, or 54% of all garnishments – are for “room and board.” These are funds retained by participating correctional agencies, which drives their interest in the program.

PIECP wages for incarcerated workers garnished by the government
Source: NCIA, PIECP Statistical Reports, Q4 2020 Cumulative Data

PIECP is a lucrative program that allows corporations and correctional officials to make millions. However, PIECP workers are left with less half of their earnings, their basic needs unmet and their families struggling for support. So, while PIECP jobs are still generally considered to be among the highest paying for incarcerated workers – and thus highly sought after by incarcerated people forced to work with limited choices – as the Bureau of Justice Assistance itself admits, all the “parties other than the inmates themselves are the first beneficiaries of PIECP inmate income.”

Unregulated Corporate Gain

PIECP’s failures do not only affect corporations using prison labor, but also those who benefit from the supply chain. These benefactors supply prison labor equipment and raw materials to government run prison businesses that produce everything. license platesUniversity furniture. For instance, since 2018, 3M has sold $3.3 million in “materials used in the production of goods for sale or use by the State” to just CorCraft, New York’s correctional business. With PIECP exclusively regulating the private sector’s direct use of prison labor, this type of profit falls off the radar.

Finally, there are those corporations outside PIECP’s scope entirely. PIECP regulations are not applicable to agricultural jobs or services. Mike Bloomberg, then-presidential candidate, was exposed for using prison labor in 2020 to make campaign calls. His campaign had been contracted ProComTo provide call center services. To make the calls, the corporation used Oklahoma incarcerated women. ProCom’s use of prison labor is not covered in NCIA reports or regulated by any federal or state law. There is no data available on the number and types of jobs in agriculture and corporate service in prisons and jails throughout the country.

It is impossible for anyone to have a complete picture of every corporation that exploits prison labor and reaps the benefits. For every one that is exposed, it’s likely that hundreds or even thousands remain unknown. That’s why we must call for an end to the corporate abuse of forced prison labor and end the exceptionThe Thirteenth Amendment is what got us here.