The Prison Industrial Complex in the Land of the Free

Updated on September 25, 2019
hard sun profile image

My background includes writing and editing letters for causes. These letters are in newspapers and on decision-makers' desks across the US.

Prison in the "land of the free"
Prison in the "land of the free" | Source

Defining the Prison Industrial Complex

The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) refers to a system set up with the purpose of lining the pockets of private interests, governments, or both. This definition encompasses a variety of tactics and entities including private prisons, hybrid public/private prisons, criminal courts, prison labor, politicians, and even rehabilitation clinics. You are impacted by this system, whether you have personally gone through it or not. The PIC is an ironic tragedy in "the land of the free."

Prison Labor

While private prisons often take much of the heat, private companies take advantage of prison labor even in publicly owned prisons. These jobs operate under the legal umbrella of the Prison Industrial Enhancement Program (PIE).

The payment for this labor can be something like $30 to $80 a month for full time. This staggeringly low wage is the result of governments taking as much as 80 percent from a minimum wage paycheck. Minimum wage, particularly in states where it's $7.25 an hour, is a cheap labor source for the business owners "lucky" enough to get a contract with a prison. And, they save even more money when they are allowed to disregard those pesky OSHA safety laws.

What About Prisoners' Safety?

Some years ago, a prison building maintenance instructor told our class something along the lines of "you couldn't pay me enough" to work in the prison's brake shop due to the health hazards. This shop is a brake refurbishing factory. It's touted as being a program that helps build self-confidence and job skills that will help upon re-entry to society.

Maybe there's some truth to this, if those prisoners dodge the increased chance of debilitating workplace accidents, severe emphysema, lung cancer, etc. The brake dust is so bad that most prisoners don't send their clothes in to be laundered. It's safer to wash your own and avoid turning your whites black with the soot as your clothes are washed among those of the brake shop workers.

Apparently, safety measures, such as proper respiration masks and other safety equipment, are not consistent with the goal of keeping operating costs as low as humanly (or inhumanely) possible.

What OSHA Laws?

The brake dust is so bad that most prisoners don't send their clothes in to be laundered. It's safer to wash your own and avoid turning your whites black with the soot as your clothes are washed among those of the brake shop workers.

Criminal Courts Role in the PIC

Your elected judges and prosecutors play vital roles in perpetuating the injustices of the PIC. It's common knowledge that, in America, the accused gets the best criminal defense that money can buy. A lawyer told me that if I had $20 grand, it could all go away!

Should you run into criminal legal troubles, my advice is you Better Call Saul. If you don't have the cash for Saul, you need to do whatever it takes to get those funds. We can all see how that perpetuates the cycle.

We also have the courts dishing out mandatory rehabilitation and mental health services to seemingly every convict. This seems like a good idea. Maybe it would be, if this "rehab" didn't take even more of a convict's cash just after he is released from prison. Thanks for the rehab, but maybe it would be better for an individual's sobriety if she had that cash to pay the bills instead.

You "Better Call Saul"

A lawyer told me that if I had $20 grand, it could all go away.

Prisoner Re-entry and Recidivism

A probation officer advised me that the system is not set up to deal with the aftermath of sending individuals to prison. Well, this shouldn't be what law-abiding Americans want to hear. Do we really want to release convicts only to have them floating in the wind, with potentially nowhere to go? Should the system bear some responsibility for upending the lives of families when it decides the primary bread-winner should be removed from the home? After all, there are often children in those homes, which the courts will shamelessly use as reasons to enhance a sentence out of care for those kids. If the courts truly cared, they would have a system in place to deal with the aftermath.

But instead, we deal only with punishment and continue to punish loved ones of prisoners while they are incarcerated. From spending money on phones calls to charging outrageous prices on commissary for some basic necessities, a prisoner's loved ones are often fleeced.

Then, we release the prisoners with all the "rehab" and fines and fees. Additionally, in many states certain felons, and anyone within their household, are now ineligible for assistance such as SNAP. Oh, and good luck getting any sort of gainful employment with that felony on your record. Most professional licenses are off limits for felons. Even getting an apartment is a daunting task for prisoners re-entering society.

Maybe instead of prisons, we should just execute anyone who commits a felonious crime. As crazy as that may sound, I bet the idea is enticing to some Americans. That is, until that criminal happens to be their cousin, brother, daughter, or themselves. There's often a very fine line between what is a felony, what is not, and who got caught and who didn't.

Do you think it can't happen to you, or one of yours? Maybe not if you have Better Call Saul money.

© 2019 Don Shepard


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    • hard sun profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Shepard 

      8 months ago

      Thanks. I think it's something not often thought much about until/unless forced to for some reason.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very informative and thought-provoking article. I'm glad I read it. You've encouraged me to explore the prison system in Canada in more detail.

    • hard sun profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Shepard 

      12 months ago

      Thank you Paula. I'm sure we will find something to disagree on soon.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      12 months ago from Carson City

      Drat!! This article angers me for more than one reason!! The one most annoying to me is that I can find nothing at all that may cause us to argue & fight and insult one another! Agreeing with you simply does not please me. Interesting, educational and REAL.


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