In 2005, the regulation Army Civilian Inmate Labor Regulation underwent a “rapid act revision”.
The revisions included the creation of labor programs, whereby labor would be carried out on prison camps and Army Installations and be provided by individuals under the supervision of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The regulation specifies that the, “Army’s primary purpose for allowing establishment of prison camps on Army installations is to use the resident non-violent civilian inmate labor pool to work on the leased portions of the installation.” (1)
The regulation revises an earlier civilian inmate labor camp directive that had been established by the Clinton administration in 1997.
In an unclassified document published on the official Army Publications website and compiled by the U.S. Army Headquarters in Washington D.C. in January 2005, titled the “Civilian Inmate Labor Program”, the report refers to how the civilian inmate labor programs benefit both the Army and U.S. correction systems by:
“Providing a source of labour at no direct cost to Army installation to accomplish tasks that would not be possible otherwise due to the manning and funding constraints under which the Army operates.” (2)
Supposed Benefits of the Program
Other “benefits” of the program as stated by the unclassified document include providing “meaningful work for inmates”, additional space to “alleviate overcrowding in nearby correction facilities”, and making “cost-effective use of buildings and land not otherwise being used.” (2)
Despite the Army doing their best to highlight the supposed benefits of the free labor system, the 2005 revisions to the Army Civilian Inmate Labor Regulation has not been without criticism, namely that it exploits inmates for free labor.
The independent news website, WND.com, suggests that the revisions were part of the Bush administration’s directives designed to expand presidential powers during an emergency. Talking to WND, Ned Christensen, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, spoke of how Fort Dix, a U.S. Army base located near Trenton, New Jersey, has two civilian labor prisons, one of which is federal and one which belongs to the state.
“Fort Dix routinely uses inmate labor for grounds maintenance and other manual labor, such as filling sandbags. The Fort Dix program is used to provide activity for trusted inmates and labor to the government at no cost,” Christensen told WDN.
In an article titled “Prison Proletariat: Exploiting Inmate Labor”, author Lawrence Albright wrote that whilst all good people “will find the exploitation of prison labor abhorrent, it must be understood that such exploitation is the name of the game called capitalism.” (3)
A Look at History
This sentiment can be applied to the Bush administration’s 2005 revisions to the Army Civilian Inmate Labor Regulation that included the creation of labor programs to grant labor to provide a cost-effective use of buildings and land at no direct cost of the government.
There is certainly nothing new about using inmates as a labor force. In the late 19th century, the “convict lease” system became popular in the United States, which involved insolvent state governments, which could not afford prisons, leasing out prisoners to work for private corporations.
According to Douglas A. Blackmon, author of “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II”:
“Tens of thousands of African Americas were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.” (4)
Inmate laborers have been stripped of all their rights, social, economic and political. They are effectively second-class citizens, who are void of unions, incapable of speaking out and are forced to work for virtually no wages. From a corporation’s perspective, inmate labor is therefore, as AlterNet states, “A brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit.” (5)
With the funding constraints the U.S. Army is forced to operate on, using inmate labor to establish prison camps of Army Installations, similar to the corporations dedicated to maximizing profit through exploiting those who are able to work for little or no wages, was the perfect solution.
Prison activist and jailhouse lawyer, Ruchell Magee, once described penal labor as “slavery practiced under the color of law.” Bush’s “cost-effective” civilian inmate labor program that benefits the cash-strapped U.S. Army is arguably just another strand of slavery being practiced under a lawful disguise.