Commentary: Mass incarceration; from the plantation to Wall Street

Commentary: Mass incarceration; from the plantation to Wall Street
November 02
07:30 2017

If the Constitution of the United States is the crowning glory of all democracy, then the 13th Amendment should have been the Hope diamond. However, the mass imprisonment of African-Americans is an outright obfuscation of the freedom so vehemently outlined in the Constitution.

Maybe we can look at the conundrum facing the South’s economy after the Civil War, the looming economic depression created by the demolishing of institutional slave labor, and arguably mitigate the justification of creating a new from state-regulated oppression, imprisonment.

Mass imprisonment of freed slaves, as a means to ensure southern economic stability, has morphed into one of the greatest socio-economic crises in America today. African-Americans represent about 14 percent of the overall population in the U.S., yet comprise 40 percent of the overall prison population in America.

The economic conditions in the South that first led to the circumvention of the 13th Amendment have long since been remitted; and automation, industrialization, and immigrant workers have erased the need to circumvent the law, so why are African-Americans still being “rounded-up”?

We all know the how i.e., mandatory minimums, longer jail sentences, and continuing social-economic disparities that greatly impact not only how African-Americans got to prison, but also how long they are incarcerated.

For the most part, modern mass incarceration continues to straddle the line between free labor and enslavement. Rarely do you see inmates working on “chain-gangs” doing back-breaking physical labor like clearing paths for new roads, digging ditches for flood water run-off, or working in rock quarries, as Stephen, from the movie Django Unchained, kindly stated, “Turning big rocks into little rocks.” No, you won’t see that anymore, but the next time you get that interrupting call at dinner time from a telemarketer, it just might be an African-American inmate from one of the many privatized prisons who have outsourced their inmate labor force. Unlike the labor force in the post-slavery South, inmates in this modern mass incarceration system earn a wage, if you want to call it that. The Prison Policy Initiative found that the average wage for an inmate was between 16 cents and 93 cents an hour. If you put that in perspective to the minimum wage, it is tantamount to slavery. Also private prisons charge inmates for everything from soap and hygiene materials to meals they need to survive. If an inmate can’t pay, that amount is added to his or her account and often by the end of their incarceration, inmates end up owing hundreds of dollars to these prisons.

Furthermore, both privately owned and state run prisons can charge an inmate for their incarceration, including any rehabilitation courses and medical treatment they received during their “bids,” which could end up being tens of thousands of dollars. In some bizarre twist, inmates have gone from being able to provide free labor to  directly being the source of the income for the prison system.

While these conditions affect the inmate populations as a whole, minority inmates are more likely to be greater impacted. The lack of resources, both inside and outside prison, is a strong determinant that African-Americans, as well as other minorities, will be targeted by both the state and private prisons as commodities to exploit for profit.

Lauren Lewis is originally from Southern California but currently resides in Winston-Salem due to military assignment. She is studying for her Masters of Social Work online at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

About Author

WS Chronicle

WS Chronicle

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors