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Originally published January 19 2015

U.S. prison system a corporate-run "neo-slavery" trap

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Are U.S. prison systems really little more than institutions that foment and perpetuate "neo-slavery"? Award-winning journalist Chris Hedges believes so.

In a recent interview with investigative journalist Ben Swann, Hedges said that many inmates work eight hours a day for major corporations like Motorola, Chevron, Nordstrom's and Target, but only earn up to $1.25 an hour. Also, he maintains, companies that provide services like phone calls to inmates often overcharge them for even the most basic of services, earning them hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Meanwhile, as Swann notes in the introduction, offenders can also amass huge amounts of debt -- "debt that can send someone back to prison, even if they've served their time."

Initially, Swann asked Hodges to provide viewers with a "basic understanding of some of these misconceptions" that most Americans have about prisons.

"We have 25 percent of the world's prison population and 5 percent of the world's population," Hodges began, adding that "prisoners, under the [Constitution's] Thirteenth Amendment essentially work in a form of neo-slavery for about a $1.30 a day."

100 percent price increase

He added that "huge numbers of corporations" like those listed above but including Victoria's Secret and Hewlett Packard "use or exploit prison labor."

Also, he said, private corporations have "become predatory within prison walls," and that some in-prison commissaries (shops were prisoners who earn some money can spend it to buy things they want, like food items) have raised prices by "over 100 percent."

"I have a list of the 1996 commissary prices in New Jersey and the ones today, and [items] have, in almost every case, at least doubled" in price, he told Swann.

"For instance, if you want to buy an envelope... it costs you 15 cents; if you buy a 100-pack of legal-sized envelopes, it's $7," he said (Writer's note: letters and stamps for letters are high-priority items in many prisons). "That, of course, is more than double in price."

Hodges went on to say that fines are also levied against many who are sentenced to prison, but that at only about $28 a month in pay, it takes a very long time to pay off those fines.

At that, Swann jumped in to ask for more specifics about the predatory practices of major corporations. "How are those corporations using the prison populations as a workforce? How does that happen?"

Hodges said the companies are simply permitted to "move beyond prison walls." He noted that any number goods -- including military uniforms and other gear -- are now manufactured in prisons, with prison labor.

Such operations are "extremely profitable, which is part of the problem with mass incarceration, because we have corporations, and the lobbyists for those corporations, writing these draconian laws to keep people locked behind bars for decades for crimes that, in other countries, they might not even be arrested for."

"Half the prison population" in the U.S. "never committed a violent crime," Hodges argued.

Prisoners are "captive" labor force that works cheap

Swann mentioned that many of the same worker protections available to the civilian population are not in place in prisons.

"Right," Hodges acknowledged, continuing: "And now you have prison administrators going to large corporations that are running sweatshops overseas, and saying, 'Come back.'"

Prisoners "can't organize, you don't have to pay benefits, they earn [pennies] an hour, they're always on time for work, and if they're ever disruptive, we put them in isolation," said Hodges.

As for the outrageous phone charges, Hodges intimated that such practices were going on in prisons all across the United States.

"That's why states have allowed these corporations to go in, because the kick-backs [ostensibly to the prison system] can run as high as 40 percent," the investigative journalist said.

"So you have a captive market," he added.

Watch the entire interview here.


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