Estrella Jail © Scott Houston
I am pleased and honored to share Scott Houston's insight into the overwhelming subject of the racist mass incarceration of Americans, Incarceration Inc.: Today's American Slavery. The project features male and female inmates of Estrella Jail in Phoenix, Arizona, shown inside the jail, and outside performing their chain gang duties, and is accompanied by Scott's impassioned writing.
"The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world by far, with 2.2 million citizens in prisons or jail. This phenomenon has generally been driven by changes in laws, policing, and sentencing, not by changes in behavior. The results have disproportionately impacted poor and disenfranchised communities mostly people of color, and African American men. These historic changes remain nearly invisible to many Americans.
"American slavery was technically abolished in 1865, but a loophole in the 13th Amendment has allowed it to continue as "punishment for crimes" well into the 21st century. Corporations have lobbied for a broader definition of "crime" in the last 150 years. As a result, there are more dark-skinned people performing mandatory, essentially unpaid, hard labor in America today than there were in 1830. The vast majority of prisoners have been locked up for non-violent, victimless crimes, many of them drug related. With such a large population incarcerated it comes as no surprise that big business began tapping into this potentially cost-free workforce.
"Incarceration is the new American slavery. This slavery is supported by laws and corporate interests."
"McDonalds, the world's most successful fast food franchise, purchases a plethora of goods manufactured in prisons, including plastic cutlery, containers, and uniforms. The inmates who sew McDonalds uniforms make even less money by the hour than the people who wear them. Wal-Mart's company policy clearly states that "forced or prison labor will not be tolerated by Wal-Mart" when basically every item in their store has been supplied by third party prison labor factories. Wal-Mart purchases its produce from prison farms, where laborers are often subjected to long hours in the blazing heat without adequate food or water. Other corporate businesses that profit from exploiting free prison labor are: Bank of America, K-Mart, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Pfizer, Pepsi, Shell, Starbucks, UPS, Verizon, Wendy's, and many, many more.
"Incarceration Inc. Today's American Slavery" is a multi-media project that addresses mass incarceration in the United States. American prisons today are functioning as commercial enterprises, backed by corporations. The U.S. justice system is riddled with racial oppression. Private business are taking advantage of vulnerable, powerless, and disenfranchised prisoners who are mostly people of color, and African American men. The invisible exploitation of cost-free inmate labor is growing."