Anti-Immigrant Legislation and Private Prison Labor: A Modern Day Slavery

~ 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)

Patarei Prison
Creative Commons License photo credit: Toni Kaarttinen

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.

Creative Commons License photo credit: i like jade plants

“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).

Death Row
Creative Commons License photo credit: Melody Kramer

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.


  1. How has anti-immigrant legislation helped shape the face of state-sanctioned private prison “modern” slavery or indentured servitude?
  2. 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!


  1. Joe

    thanks for the great and well-researched reports. What would you all, now that you know this issue inside out, propose for policy changes at the state and federal government levels?

  2. OxyStudents

    Both the privatization of juvenile facilities and school-to-prison pipeline tracking in public and charter schools need to be dismantled. In these schools, the money spent on excessive police presence should be allocated to fund quality education programs that focus on encouragement rather than punishment. With this idea, zero tolerance policies that push youth out of school and into the streets, where they are likely criminalized, should be banned. Research has shown that lack of education does lead to incarceration; thus, state funding for education should not be cut to provide more funding for prison construction.

    Most importantly, all private prisons, including privatized juvenile facilities, must be shut down. There should not be any incentives to mass incarcerate individuals; especially those who do not have the means to advocate for their rights. Laws that result in the mass incarceration of individuals, such as California’s “Three Strikes Law,” should not be implemented. In addition, not providing any rehabilitation while incarcerated is ineffective, as it only leads to increased recidivism rates. The human and civil rights of immigrants, in particular, need to be enforced. All laws that restrict immigrant access to public education and public resources should be rejected, and laws intended to detain immigrants, such as SB1070, should not be enforced.

    Reflecting on all aspects of the private prison industry has opened our eyes to yet another system that benefits from the perpetuation of racial inequalities. While policy changes on the state and federal level may seem like viable solutions, in actuality, the problem lies in today’s “colorblind” society. Because of this, many people are unaware that people of color are disproportionately targeted. And the fact that 1 in 4 black men are incarcerated is not a reflection of their “criminality,” but it is a reflection of society’s “colorblindness,” resulting in their support for laws that maintain people of color’s inferiority. So, for any real changes to ensue, we must advocate for racial justice. While we realize that this is easier said than done, with the support organizations, such as Critical Resistance and CURB that promote prison reform and/or abolishment, change is possible. In the words of Angela Davis, “We have to create what we want in the future, as opposed to asking someone, and act as if it were possible.”

    • folkaart

      “And the fact that 1 in 4 black men are incarcerated is not a reflection of their “criminality,” but it is a reflection of society’s “colorblindness,” resulting in their support for laws that maintain people of color’s inferiority.” OxyStudents

      Just more racist blame game nonsense. We have black cops, black police chiefs, black juries and black victimization reports. Blacks are more violent and criminal, it’s a fact and it is not the laws causing the disproportionate amount of poor behavior by blacks.

      I know it must be frustrating for you, now that blacks and whites are treated the same under the law that this huge disparity in pathological behavior exposes itself but you are just being a bigoted racist to blame whites for black criminal behavior.

      If whites are the problem, then why are things always worse for blacks in black majority areas or black majority nations? One would reason that without whitey holding you down you would thrive but instead things go to hell and the quality of life declines. Why is that?

      Where are all the black majority areas with low crime and violence?

      “we must advocate for racial justice” OxyStudents

      And what would that be, holding blacks to a lower standard of conduct as a way to create the illusion of racial equality? LOL

      “All laws that restrict immigrant access to public education and public resources should be rejected” OxyStudents

      There are no such laws for immigrants, just ILLEGAL ones.

  3. cordoba blue

    OxyStudents: “Research has shown that lack of education does lead to incarceration; thus, state funding for education should not be cut to provide more funding for prison construction.”
    I’ve been sayin’ it an sayin’ it about education. Have I not? Haven’t I been sayin’ this for decades? Yup, I’ve been sayin’ this for DECADES! And I keep getting my butt kicked for saying it like, “That’s classist! You wouldn’t believe what these kids know BEFORE they walk into the classroom. Kids should do what they WANT in the classroom instead of some teacher shoving information down their throats! Kids should go to school WHEN they want to instead of on some white supremacist inflicted schedule!” So children who desperately need structure and guidance walk into a classroom filled with chaos and void of any structure and guidance. WoW, that’s intelligent!

    In the words of Angela Davis, “We have to create what we want in the future, as opposed to asking someone, and act as if it were possible.” That’s a quotation I can live by! Yay Angela!

    • folkaart

      Below text is from this article –

      “The highest dropout rates were among black and Hispanic men, at up to 30 percent.

      High school dropouts accounted for 51 percent of Illinois’ prison population, the study found.

      The cost of housing an inmate is $22,000 annually, and adds up to more than $1 billion a year for the 46,000 prisoners being held in the state, according to state statistics.

      Among men aged 18 to 34, 15 percent of the dropouts were in prison, an incarceration rate that was five times higher than high school graduates’.”

      These criminals are a huge tax drain and if private prisons can help to relieve the financial burden these losers place on society then I’m all for it.

      • OxyStudents

        Re-read our argument: Yes, lack of education DOES lead to incarceration. If quality education programs were implemented in the schools that have the highest drop out rates, high school dropouts would not account for high percentages of prison populations, and it wouldn’t cost $1 billion/year to hold these prisoners…

        You know what this study does not take into consideration? Class. It does not examine the schools in relation to their neighborhoods’ income. It only addresses the race and gender of those who dropped out. So, the blame cannot solely be placed on Black and Hispanic men for having the highest drop out rates. What about the lack of adequate resources in the public schools they attend, which increases their “disengagement” and dropout rates? Think of it this way: if you were being discouraged from finishing high school, and if you were constantly being labeled as a criminal, it would be awfully difficult to finish high school, wouldn’t you agree?

        In these low-income schools, which house mostly youth of color, policies are enforced that ultimately deny them of their education (resulting in high dropout rates and incarceration). Some facts from the ACLU ( about the school-to-prison pipeline that justify this argument…

        “Zero-tolerance policies impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Under these policies, children have been expelled for giving Midol to a classmate, bringing scissors to class for an art project…”

        “There is no evidence that students of color misbehave to a greater degree than white students. They are, however, punished more severely, often for behaviors that are less serious.”

        “African-American students with disabilities are three times more likely to receive short-term suspensions than their white counterparts, and are more than four times as likely to end up in correctional facilities.”

        One more thing: It may cost $22,000 annually to house an inmate, but it costs $9,644 per PK-12 student (… maybe if we spent more money on education versus incarceration, then these “losers” wouldn’t be such a financial burden…

        • folkaart

          Where I live they spend much more per pupil in the urban schools than they do in the surrounding suburbs yet the gap persists unchanged.
          The problem as it appears to me is students with low levels of curiosity and no desire to learn. They live in the moment with no concern at all with their long term future (abstract reasoning).

          ““There is no evidence that students of color misbehave to a greater degree than white students. They are, however, punished more severely, often for behaviors that are less serious.” OxyStudents

          There is overwhelming evidence that blacks are more pathological in their behavior. This racial behavioral gap is even greater than it appears for the teachers already give blacks far more leeway because they are aware of the gap and fear being labeled racist.

          The behavioral differences between the races are systemic and can be found nationwide so either every school district in the nation (including those run by blacks) is unfairly treating black students with harsher punishment or blacks tend to have a higher juvenile delinquency rate. It’s palin as day what the problem is here and it’s not blacks being treated unfairly.

  4. cordoba blue

    OxyStudents says that: “If quality education programs were implemented in the schools that have the highest drop out rates, high school dropouts would not account for high percentages of prison populations, and it wouldn’t cost $1 billion/year to hold these prisoners.”
    Dear Oxy, I’ve been a teacher for a long time. I hate racism. I hate that especially African American kids sometimes get treated differently than white children. But having lived in North Carolina my whole life, I see case after case of what life is like for a child from a poor black family.
    What are the most common factors of a poor black family? I will explain it. LACK of a FATHER! This is anecdotal, but maybe that makes it even more relevant. I’ve seen SO MANY black kids being raised by their grandmothers, mothers who are 18 or 19 or 20, or aunts or just about any female within the family who will take them. But the black fathers? Nowhere to be found.
    It seems to be acceptable within disadvantaged, and now it’s reaching the middle class also, black families to get a woman pregnant and then leave. Except for the poor woman who has to bear the burden of raising these children, nobody reprimands these men anymore.
    I also knew quite a few white women in high school who slept with black men, became pregnant, and the black men left with no apologies. I still see those men walking around sometimes. I am embarrassed for them. They say hello to me and I’m polite of course, but I really feel like asking them about their children. They’re not in the least bit embarrassed. They’ll even, sometimes, take out photos of “my kids” while they are in the company of still another woman. It’s all good in the neighborhood. In other words, it’s cool. It’s acceptable. Everybody’s polite and courteous, but what’s the impression this leaves on other races? You tell me.
    What are people REALLY THINKING? I mean, aside from being politically correct, you tell me OxyStudents, what are people really thinking? “What a bum!”
    As far as quality education, the state can do just so much for any child. In North Carolina many poor black children receive free breakfasts, free lunches, free after-school help with homework. But if there’s no cohesive family unit to go home to, the whole attempt ultimately fails.
    I REALLY want black kids to have every advantage as far as decent clean schools, and libraries filled with books and field trips to museums and the whole nine yards. But I’ve seen many black children do very poorly in some brand new schools paid for by the city. Why? Is this not “quality education”? Teachers feel a sense of pride in helping underprivileged children. So there’s the beautiful school, the willing teachers, what’s missing? Parental involvement.
    Lots of the parents of these children are drug users who don’t even cook dinner for their kids. Or they are involved with crime in another area. Or they didn’t even want the children in the first place and just think of school as a baby sitting service.
    The families of black children who do well are involved in their children’s progress. They always show up for parent-teacher conferences. They insist the kids do their homework. The children are dressed in clean clothes. They are warned by parents not to misbehave in school. So the teachers and staff get considerable back-up and support.
    The state can’t do everything. Families can’t do everything either. I’m in favor of a joint effort from social programs (such as Head Start which puts blacks and whites to work and has helped many children) combined with family values (ie no fathers casually parading around new girlfriends just after they got one lady pregnant).
    Chances are, you must agree OxyStudents, it’s the result of the union between the disinterested father and the burdened mother who will probably see the inside of a prison before he’s 20. Because who will stop him? Who will take the time to teach him not to steal, do drugs, do his homework? Think what your own family background was like. Who did you trust to illustrate what it meant to be a man? Not the neighborhood gang. They’re just kids themselves.
    There are many jobs that can be created in the interest of helping under-privileged children of any race. These programs would serve the dual purpose of giving employment and helping black families get back on their feet. But it’s all part and parcel of a larger picture: people helping themselves also. You can’t save someone from themselves if they are determined to avoid becoming a responsible adult. In summation: social programs combined with strong family values. That’s the answer to the prison problem.

  5. Seattle in Texas

    Hey there folkaart–I just quickly wanted to take a moment to respond to a couple of different things you have said on different posts and thought this would be the most appropriate place to do so. Often you have blamed the Black male on social issues and focused on Black issues as with this quote:

    It’s obvious what the problem is, black males (as a group) care far more about having sex then rearing their offspring.

    This extremely perverted fixation white society, white men more specifically, have on the Black phallus is nothing new. If you have read any of the literature on the white “vigilante” violence against Black males in particular, you’d remember things like white men cutting out the groin of Black males during or after lynchings and saving them as prized souvenirs. This was done with American Indian men also…not to mention them cutting out the uterus’s of women, etc. But the Black man has been more of a fixation on the white psyche throughout U.S. history than any other group, up on into this very day as you demonstrate with your comment.

    Well, it went beyond vigilante violence, etc., as the government got somewhat involved too as the formal white legal institution began to form and spread throughout the nation, as the nation grew. Naturally from the beginning it served to privilege white society. Rape used to be enough to charge somebody for a capital offense you know. Almost all of the men who were murdered through state sanctioned executions for rape were Black as shown by Marquart, Ekland-Olson, and Sorensen (the second runner up was Latino) and the biggest predictor was the race of the victim–it was only when the victim was white that the death sentences were distributed and carried out, with the exception of one case where the victim was Black and under 11 years old. But it took only the testimony of a white woman for a Black man to be executed by the state–whether it actually happened or not. They go on to cite Bowers who suggested:

    More than 85% of those executed for rape by the states were black. It is not, therefore, premature to suggest that the reluctance to abandon executions for rape in the South may reflect something more than a desire for protection against this particular crime. It may also be a desire to maintain a social system that depends upon a social distance between the races. Perhaps this increased proportion of executions for rape was a response in the South that the requisite for social distance was not being maintained in recent years (1994: 54).

    Throughout U.S. history white men have committed incredible assaults against Black women and that went legally unrecognized–not just against Black females, but against all women females. They’ve impregnated women of color and denied their children–during slavery, their own offspring became their “chattel”. White men have quite a history of, (as a group), caring more about having sex than raising their own children when taking history into account coupled with actual population size–based on population sizes alone, there would be more white men who fail to raise their children in the U.S. up to white middle+ SES standards, than Black. Thus, white men continue to have more children and deny them since the Black population is approximately 12% and of that, approximately 1/2 are male, and of that a much smaller proportion will be of age to have children, etc. (plus, this comparison is not taking into account the institutional racism that is designed to break up Black families and incarcerates Black males at rates incredibly higher than white males, etc.).

    But on children’s performance in the world of education–this is of much focus too. Who fairs “better” between Black and white children who were raised in single parent homes? Well this study says Black and Latino, despite the racism that works against them on top of it. Well, here’s some information that might help explain:

    Increases in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing have dramatically altered the family life of American children. Whereas in the early 1960s, nearly 90 percent of all children lived with both of their biological parents until they reached adulthood, today less than half of children grow up with both natural parents. Nearly a third are born to unmarried parents, the majority of whom never live together, and another third are born to married parents who divorce before their child reaches adulthood. To further complicate matters, a substantial number of children are exposed to multiple marital disruptions and multiple father figures…

    What about race and ethnic differences? Are white children more or less affected by family disruption than black and Hispanic children? Black and Hispanic children come from less advantaged backgrounds than white children, and their underlying risk of dropping out of school (or experiencing other negative events) is greater than that of whites to begin with. Thus, we might expect the effect of family disruption to be greater on Blacks and Hispanics than on whites. On the other hand, since single motherhood is more common and perhaps better institutionalized in the African-American and Hispanic communities, we might expect the effect of family disruption on minority children to be smaller than the effect on white children…

    In our analyses, the latter hypothesis dominates. Proportionally, father absence appears to hurt the educational success of white youth more than other racial and ethnic groups. Living without a father increases the risk of dropping out of school by 150 percent among Anglo children. In contrast, father absence increases the school failure risk among African Americans and Hispanics by 75 percent and 96 percent respectively. Remarkably, growing up without a father in the home appears to nullify the educational advantage of being white. Anglo children from one-parent households are significantly more likely to drop out than blacks from two-parent homes, and they are nearly as likely to experience school failure as blacks from similarly disrupted families….


    Okay, so and lastly, the issue regarding immigration. I personally take the position that the U.S. needs to have public schools that are taught in Spanish K-12 with Spanish curriculum where all parents, regardless of their race and ethnicity, can have the option of enrolling their children in either English or Spanish speakings schools. (something similar has been done in Canada with French and English tracks and it’s been reported a remarkable success in many respects) Likewise, I think public schools need to be available that teach all curriculum out of a Black framework, that regardless of race and ethnicity, parents can have that option to enroll their children in. This is different from public schools that are stationed in communities in poverty and have the majority of students of color, yet the school itself is still governed by the larger white supremacist structure and curriculum, etc.

    Lastly, your position on immigration. Well, I have much to say on that, but will keep it short. So in short, I’ve asked the question many times, why don’t whites just immigrate back to Europe? Not all whites, but whites who hate things like equality, multiculturalism, preservation of language and cultures, reparations, etc., etc., etc. Well, I found something on accident that surprised me and thought I would share with you! I was looking to see if there were by chance any whites who might be trying to get a movement going on this and so on, and low and behold I found this:

    I could hardly believe it because while I’m aware of that site, I never visit. I had to this time with that title, “White Americans should leave America and reclaim Europe”. So, I think some of the reasoning is utterly ridiculous, but from their viewpoint, the hatred of “race mixing” and so on, it’s apparently totally rational and logical. And when your in favor of things like segregation and having to share a population with people you don’t like, well then, why the hell not? But going further with the reasoning you gave Dr. Chavez above on why Mexican immigrants in the U.S. should go back to Mexico, etc., well that all equally applies to why white Americans should return to Europe, ya know? I mean, talking about giving up native languages and cultures? Whites certainly did that, and the English speaking ones still dropped their dialects and cultures, etc. But why not reclaim and preserve? In addition, Europe is in dire need of immigration, like dire dire. So, don’t you think it would make the most sense to have whites who hate the very thing this highly racist nation was built upon, immigration (coupled with, as the article from Stormfront notes, African slavery and American Indian genocide), go back home??? Plus, this movement in all irony, just might spur up the support from people of color…now how often is it that a white supremacist group/people/viewpoints might actually be able to agree with at least some people of color? Anyway, perhaps something to ponder on….

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