~ This is the last post of our three-part blog series on the criminalization of people of color and the private prison industry.
“The prison is like a rather disciplined barracks, a strict school, a dark workshop, but not qualitatively different” – Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (p. 233)
Prisons have long served to keep individuals labeled “deviant” in America under constant surveillance. It is no secret that those labeled “deviant” are those that society keeps at the bottom: racial minorities. Today, that “deviant” label has increasingly been applied to immigrants from Central and South America. Thus, we can see that these groups are especially vulnerable to the detainment and abuse by private prisons in the US today. How have private prisons capitalized on the criminalization of immigrants?
First, the passage and enforcement of anti-immigration laws (such as Operation Streamline [pdf]) have correlated with the expansion of private prisons. These results can especially be seen in the state of Texas. According to the Grassroots Leadership report, “Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande,” the number of immigrants sentenced to prison for crossing the Mexico/Texas border without authorization in two districts grew from 2,770 in 2002 to 44,517 in 2009.
“The expanded criminal and civil immigration detention system has been a huge financial boon to private prison corporations, such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Management and Training Corporation (MTC)” according to the report. Texas is not alone in criminalizing and incarcerating immigrants, the state of Arizona (on the heels of its controversial SB1070 anti-immigrant legislation) announced in early 2011 a request for proposals for a 5000-bed private prison. It should come then as no surprise that CCA was a key architect and proponent of SB1070, as NPR and Racism Review reported on earlier this year. Private prison corporations stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars from laws such as this.
A private prison serves as a third party contracted by government agencies to detain prisoners. Private prison corporations enter contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and pay private prison corporations a per diem or monthly rate for each prisoner confined in the facility. Private prison corporations profit from mass incarceration that targets racial and ethnic minorities, and increasingly, undocumented immigrants. In addition to being paid by the state to hold prisoners, private prisons profit from using those prisoners in turn as laborers.
While work is not a mandatory discipline within all private prisons, it is a discipline that is highly incentivized. Private prisons use discipline to control, manipulate and subject their prisoners and turning them into machines or “docile bodies” that will give them cheap labor. Every day, these prisoners work to process food, produce brooms, sew clothing, wire technical items, etc. Prisoners are paid between $0.23 and $4.73 per day while at the same time, it costs these inmates $5 A MINUTE to make a phone call in private prisons (see also, Think Progress article on this).
Labor within private prisons is clearly not used for the transformation and rehabilitation of these inmates into constructive members of society. Mass incarceration, that has expanded with the passing of anti-immigrant laws, increased with the development of private prisons has resulted in the incarceration of over 2.3 million people, who are now working for a twisted and corrupt economy. Those familiar with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow book can certainly help argue that these inmates are essentially modern-day slaves of the 21st century; they are being exploited and used by a system that not only refuses to help them, but aims to keep them incarcerated for the purpose of creating a profit.
- How has anti-immigrant legislation helped shape the face of state-sanctioned private prison “modern” slavery or indentured servitude?
- How can we work to end private prisons’ ability to exploit anti-immigration sentiment and legislation for profit?
~ *We are a group of four sociology students studying critical theories of race and racism in Danielle Dirks’ “Contemporary Sociological Theory” undergraduate course at Occidental College. Please read and feel free to comment or ask questions. Thank you for your time!