Demanufacturing Wal-Mart: Profiting From Prison Labor

Despite the article’s negative spin on it, the fact that Wal-Mart utilizes inmate labor is actually one of the first good things I’ve heard about Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, it looks like it isn’t actually Wal-Mart that is utilizing inmate labor, but the salvaging company with which Wal-Mart contracts.

As a tangential rant, it really annoys me when people bash inmate labor – it is useful employment and it generally pays inmates more than the paltry sum they would make working as porters on the unit.  Prison industries are generally highly sought-after jobs by the inmate population and the companies would not utilize inmate labor if they had to pay prevailing wages – why go to the trouble?  So it is a benefit to both the inmate population and the company.  I find it no coincidence that the people who bash inmate labor generally have not worked in or around prisons, don’t know what they’re talking about, and have their own agendas to push that have nothing to do with helping inmates.

Read the article here.

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6 thoughts on “Demanufacturing Wal-Mart: Profiting From Prison Labor

  1. Great post. I agree with you all the way. As a former inmate of 10 years on drug charges, I worked for 6 cents an hour at times. Giving inmates real jobs that pay real wages is good for everyone involved. God blessed me with turning my experiences into books that shine a light on prison life.

  2. Reblogged this on Glenn Langohr's Stunning Memoirs– of Life in Prison- In Print, Kindle and Audio Book and commented:
    Great post. I agree with you all the way. As a former inmate of 10 years on drug charges, I worked for 6 cents an hour at times. Giving inmates real jobs that pay real wages is good for everyone involved.

  3. Thanks for the comment and the reblog! Always appreciated.

  4. bitcodavid says:

    I agree with what both you and Glenn are saying, but for the following:

    1) The work is still extremely low level. Factory work. In prison or out, people should be able to work to their maximum potential. I would much rather see educational programs that prepare inmates for high skill professions. IT and other tech fields, writing, of course, EMT, etc. In fact, a system by which they received the same pay they’d receive for doing these jobs, but wherein they could complete a BA or even a Master’s degree would be the ultimate, in my mind. I get that it would be expensive, but we could stop spending trillions of dollars a year on the insane war on drugs, and channel this money into helping rebuild people, rather than creating a criminal class to further profit the rich.

    2) Private companies are still exploiting this labor pool for profit. Yes, the prisoners may be able to make better money than they could otherwise, but that’s the fault of the current system, not a kudo to the private corporations who only hire them because they can get away with paying sup-par wages. Like the Private Prison Industry – companies like CCA – the mix of prisoners and profits can never be anything but a bad combination. Look at it this way. If – in a perfect world – nobody ever got sick, we’d have no need for a health care system. Conversely, when people can profit off of incarceration, we have no motive – on a national level – to prioritize the reduction of our prison population.

    3) You also run into the plethora of non monetary protections that workers should be afforded. Things like OSHA. How safe are these jobs? What kind of toxic chemicals and other long term hazards are these inmates being exposed to, that workers outside of prison would be protected against?

  5. Hello! Thanks for the commentary – I really enjoy the discourse. I do disagree with you, though.

    (1) Regarding the desire for higher ed, while that sounds good in theory and may make us feel more egalitarian, the reality is that most inmates are coming into the system with low literacy skills and without even a GED or high school diploma. I think they would be better served by teaching them vocational skills – college grads are a dime a dozen in this economy, but plumbers, electricians, and other skilled trades make very decent wages. My feeling is that we actually degrade the skilled fields by saying that they are not as worthy as white collar jobs. Providing a master’s degree can cost $30K or more each – almost the same cost to provide vocational skills to many inmates.

    (2) I actually think that the best possible world is a public-private partnership for inmate labor. Yes, they are profit-motivated – that’s why they’re willing to use inmates in the first place, rather than private citizens (presumably non-felons). And I have evaluated both public and private prisons and, without making an overall judgment, have found many innovative ideas in the private prison industry that do not exist in the public sector.

    (3) This I do agree with because I have seen it and do believe it goes on.

    • bitcodavid says:

      I may have failed to properly express myself. I don’t have any problem at all with the trades. What I meant was that those individuals who had the capability and desire to obtain higher education should have that opportunity. There is however, a difference between training as a plumber or electrician, and doing mindless factory work. There too, some individuals may not be able to aspire to anything better than mindless factory work – but my point is that if rebuilding lives is our goal, as opposed to merely creating a “criminal class,” then we need to offer these people work that not only provides economic recovery, but satisfies their need to make a quality contribution to society and themselves.

      As to the idea of privatization, I’m not saying that it is impossible for private prison companies to have the occasional good idea. Even a broken clock… What I’m saying is that our goal as a nation needs to be reducing crime and recidivism through attention to the needs of the individual, and that any profit motive will always have debilitating effects on the prison population – and population as a whole. The very nature of business mandates it. Mechanics exist to fix broken cars. If there were no broken cars, there’d be no mechanics. Our goal as a nation and a society should be to eliminate crime. That concept is anathema to any for-profit penal enterprise.

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