We Could Use the Prisoners at Gitmo, Too, But I Hear They Might Be Foreign

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Dana Rohrabacher still occasionally shows flashes of his former libertarianism. Other times he says stuff like this:

Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, dismissed arguments made by President Bush and business leaders who say the United States needs a pool of foreign workers. He said businesses should be more creative in their efforts to find help and suggested that employers turn to the prison population to fill jobs in agriculture and elsewhere.

"Let the prisoners pick the fruits," Mr. Rohrabacher said. "We can do it without bringing in millions of foreigners."

It's a repellent remark, but it also brushes against a truth that most pols and pundits prefer to ignore. There are two large classes of employees in the U.S. that are not "free labor" by any stretch of the imagination. One is foreign workers—either illegal immigrants, who have little legal recourse when employers coerce or cheat them, or guest workers, whose ability to leave one job for another is severely constrained. The other group is prisoners.

If all you want is a captive pool of low-wage proles, I suppose it might make sense to replace the first group with the second. But if your interest is liberty—freedom of movement, freedom of contract—it's a pretty disgusting thought. For all the restrictions of the guest worker program, at least its members signed up voluntarily. And none of them got their jobs by killing someone.

NEXT: Pray for me—if you ever pray!

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  1. I’m surprised he doesn’t take the line of thought further and propose we alleviate our national debt by coercing foreign citizens to pay our taxes. Or do we already do that?

  2. I guess Rohrabacher figures that the US might as well go all the way on hypocrisy at this point….

  3. OK, if Randy Cunningham and Jack Abramoff are chained together in the orchard, who hold the basket, and who climbs up into the tree?

  4. Okay, but how do we replace the maids, gardeners, and nannies? Is Mr. R going to let someone with nine burlgary convictions clean his house?

  5. When I was in law school, it once occurred to me that we could enslave our prison population.

    Here’s the Thirteenth Amendment:

    Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    I’d like two to keep house, preferably white-collar criminals with explosive neckbands (just in case). Thanks!

  6. Pro L — I do civil fraud prosecutions against white collar types. None of the guys I sue know how to clean; they always HIRE such things done. You might do okay with a hot-check writer, though.

  7. “When I was in law school, it once occurred to me that we could enslave our prison population.”

    Oh, I’ve long known that such a program would be legal. The hypocrisy would come from lecturing China, et al., about the use of prison labor while making the use of prison labor an official US government-backed policy rather than the piecemeal system used currently.

  8. What if such a program had a strong deterrent effect and people committed fewer crimes? What do you think they’d do to get farm labor then?

    I shudder to think about the most likely answer…

  9. As Karen indicates above, this doesn’t address the majority of undocumented workers (90 to 95 percent) who work in non-agriculture jobs. Maybe prisoners with ankle bracelets or explosive codpieces or something could be let out to work as domestics and barbacks.

  10. Karen,

    Oh, I think I could find ways to make my white-collar criminal slaves learn to clean properly. Bring on prisoner slavery, and I’m thinking that negative reinforcement will be making a comeback.

    Of course, given the huge demand for these slaves that’s sure to come, we’ll be locking people up for snarky blog posts before it’s all done.

  11. So we could end up in a situation where our agricultural economy is dependent on having a minimum number of prisoners? No way could that possibly backfire.

  12. Agreed, it’s a totally foolproof system. I say we forestall any shortages and just start locking up anyone who looks like he’s done drugs. Oh, and any Libertarians. That goes without saying.

    By the way, the case law on the 13th Amendment doesn’t allow us to enslave debtors. Sorry!

  13. It just occurred to me that the biggest customer for slave-prisoners would probably be Wal-Mart. That’ll stop all those pesky wage and hour suits. No union problems, either. Of course, this means there won’t be anyone left to pick fruit, so we’re back to square one on that issue.

  14. I dunno. Wouldn’t want them damaging organs we could harvest.

    Wasn’t there some point in the 90s where we had more people in prison than the USSR or Red China?

  15. “I shudder to think about the most likely answer”

    Thoreau, if we don’t make jaywalking a felony punishable by hard labor, then the terrorists will have won.

  16. Simply solved, Karen. Enslave all of Mexico. Enough of them are trying to sneak over the border– which is a felony–to justify a mass arrest.

    Strange that we left this loophole in the Constitution. I blame the Freemasons.

  17. Sick and evil. Anyone who’s seen “Gone With the Wind” knows where this leads. Remember the scene during Reconstruction where Scarlett O’Hara obtains cheap labor from the jail to replace the slaves that are no longer available? This is just what China is accused of. Since the prison population is disproportionately black (something like half of black males in Southern California can count on spending time in jail, thanks to the Drug War) we would be, for all practical purposes, reinstitutionalizing black slavery.

    And here we end up: a combination of the Drug War, tough-on-crime rhetoric, and a general deterioration in our standards of liberty has led to a serious proposal to recreate slavery in America. It’s not a slippery slope, it’s a cliff, and we’re walking right off it.

  18. How about getting rid of agricultural subsidies and protectionism and letting the market work? We might find that it is cheaper to import fruits rather than support corporate welfare queen farmers and their immigrant slaves.

  19. “When I was in law school, it once occurred to me that we could enslave our prison population.”

    I favor something a little bit different in an anarcho-capitalistic system — instead of being imprisoned, wrong-doers would work to repay restitution to their victims (or their heirs).

    Downside: Violent offenders might not be suitable for anything but being locked up; those who commit very serious crimes (such as murder) might never be able to repay what they owe. Although the latter might be handled by “restitution insurance” that I once discussed here.

    Upside: Innocent taxpayers won’t have to pay to keep offenders locked up; and if there is no harm to another party that needs to be repaid (victimless “crimes”), there is no punishment.

  20. If I were a prisoner assigned to fruit-picking detail, I would make a point of damaging as much produce as I could. Oops–I squeezed these grapes too hard. Oops–I dropped and bruised an apple, which will spoil the whole barrel. Oops–apparently watermelons can’t be thrown without breakage.

  21. “And here we end up: a combination of the Drug War, tough-on-crime rhetoric, and a general deterioration in our standards of liberty has led to a serious proposal to recreate slavery in America.”

    P.J. O’Rourke once suggested that any time you hear someone make a blanket statement about drugs and crime, you should substitute the word “niggers” to get the speaker’s real message. Examples to try at home:

    Drugs are destroying our cities.

    Drugs are corrupting America’s youth.

    Drugs are spreading into America’s suburbs.

  22. Jennifer, such rebellion is fine, so long as you like sleeping in The Box.

  23. Jennifer, such rebellion is fine, so long as you like sleeping in The Box.

    I think even that would be preferable to letting some motherfucker make a profit off of me without my consent.

  24. The utterly and completely disgusting notion of enslavement aside, and the obvious conflicts of interest aside, what is perhaps most stupid about this proposition is the fact that there are at any given time around 2 million incarcerated Americans as opposed to 10-16 million illegals.

    Neither morality, nor ethics, nor math seem to be specialities of the American moron Right.

    JMJ

  25. I favor something a little bit different in an anarcho-capitalistic system — instead of being imprisoned, wrong-doers would work to repay restitution to their victims (or their heirs). — Stevo Darkly

    One problem with this is that it makes it less costly (relatively) for wealthier citizens to commit crimes than poorer citizens.

    The Justice System already works like this in many intances, but I think we should be trying to get to the ideal of blind justice, not institutionalizing the opposite.

  26. “I favor something a little bit different in an anarcho-capitalistic system — instead of being imprisoned, wrong-doers would work to repay restitution to their victims (or their heirs).”

    Stevo, have you read Robert Vroman’s essay, “Hard Cash Trumps Hard Time: Anarchist Prisons”?

    http://www.anti-state.com/vroman/vroman6.html

  27. I’m with Adrian. Also, I would like to see progressive fines, whereby the convicted pay a percentage of their total wealth.

    JMJ

  28. I’d rather have a situation where there are no fines whatsoever, which means the government has no financial incentive to enforce the law, but simply enforces the law for the ostensible purpose of public safety. Those small towns where the majority of the budget comes from traffic fines are exhibit A for why I feel this way.

  29. Okay, but how do we replace the maids, gardeners, and nannies? Is Mr. R going to let someone with nine burlgary convictions clean his house?

    Well, since the labor is now free, everyone will have lots of money leftover to hire white people and white people only.

  30. Jersey, the people who thougth a 700-mile fence would defend a 1,700-mile border probably can’t do the math you suggest, either.

  31. Jennifer, there may be hope for this country after all! Don’t tread on me, right? We should call you Cool Hand Jennifer from now on 🙂

    JMJ, you mean math like 300 million citizens, all potential convicts/slaves? You mean stupidity like coming to a libertarian site, reading some jokes about enslaving prisoners, and taking them seriously? You mean morality like constantly advocating majority rule, even when it means oppressing a minority? You mean “right” as in not understanding the difference between conservative and libertarian?

    Idiots like Milton Friedman would like to know.

  32. Semi-related:

    Supreme court to review whether inmates can be denied certain reading materials:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060327/ap_on_go_su_co/scotus_inmate_newspapers

  33. If fines were based on a percentage of wealth:

    COP A: Holy shit! That guy is traveling 100 mph in a 25 zone! That’s dangerous!

    COP B: Yeah, but his yearly income is only $5,000 per year. Fuck it, he’s not worth our time. Hey, look! There’s Bill Gates going five miles over the speed limit! Let’s get him!

  34. Of course as Jesse notes, we are already employing slave labor out of prison population in this country. So the suggestion is really that we put more prisoners to such use. You know, the ones currently considered too risky to sew blue jeans or pick tomatoes.

  35. Back to the serious discussion, limited “slavery” of prisoners is, of course, a real practice. However, I think even our crazy governments understand the danger of taking that too far. In addition, labor advocates have always screamed loud and long whenever they have heard the slightest hint of a proposal to make prison labor generally available. While such labor isn’t actually free, it is low cost when compared to the alternative, and would certainly displace traditional labor if used on a wide scale.

    Sorry if I’m getting cranky, JMJ. I’m ill and annoyed, a bad combination.

  36. When I was in law school, it once occurred to me that we could enslave our prison population.

    You guys are pretty lax in your history. This already happened. It was widespread in the South after the civil war to auction off prison labor to the highest bidder. They were treated as slaves by the winner. States even set the laws up so that only prisoners in for less than xxx time could be sold – because whites weren’t convicted for petty crimes.

  37. Jennifer, such rebellion is fine, so long as you like sleeping in The Box.

    Can you eat 50 hard boiled eggs, Jen?

  38. Also, I would like to see progressive fines, whereby the convicted pay a percentage of their total wealth.

    You have ideas, write them down, but never think them through, huh?

  39. Thomas Paine’s Goiter, I meant today. Nothing much has changed since the amendment was adopted, legally speaking. Though today’s version of enforced servitude wouldn’t be much like true slavery, since prisoners are considered to retain certain civil liberties. Also, as I and others have mentioned above, something like this goes on today, only it isn’t called “slavery”.

  40. Tom Paine,

    If we had higher standards to send people to prison and would stop imprisoning petty drug users and petty theives and just imprisoned professional theives and violent offenders who deserved to be there, that might not be such a bad system, assuming the work is sufficiently harsh and degrading. Granted, I guess they shouldn’t be competing against honest labor, but if it were the right people, having them out busting rocks or digging ditches is not such a bad idea.

  41. By the way, the case law on the 13th Amendment doesn’t allow us to enslave debtors. Sorry!

    If they ever got serious about using prison labor, there would be an effort to overturn these precedents. I wonder how Roberts and Alito feel about this line of authority. It seems kind of arbitrary to favor debtors over other prisoners. Also, it seems like debtors could generally be trusted at their, errr, jobs more than violent criminals. This really does seem like the most plausible way to increase our prison labor pool.

  42. JMJ –

    Wealth, or income? An awful lot of people have negative net worth but lots of disposable income. I’d hate to see a guy with $300k debt from buying a boat and two hummers get a tiny fine but a guy who’s just retired and paid off his house but has a tiny pension get hosed.

  43. I think even that would be preferable to letting some motherfucker make a profit off of me without my consent.

    Jennifer, once you’re incarcerated pretty much everything that happens to you, every minute of every day, happens without your consent. That’s the way it is sort of just by definition.

    That’s just an observation of fact and nothing to do with the merits of this proposal. I’m certainly in agreement with those dismissing this as a dumb (not to mention wrong) idea.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with expecting prisoners to earn their keep. But prison labor has historically been about rather unproductive busy work.

    The problem is that it is never particularly efficient to set people to work on tasks that they lack skills for. And there is some merit to the argument that some subset of the prison population would not have arrived there in the first place if they had marketable skills.

  44. “By the way, the case law on the 13th Amendment doesn’t allow us to enslave debtors. Sorry!”

    I’m not a lawyer, but it has always been my understanding that in the US one can not be imprisoned for debt, per se. And if debt is not a crime, it is understandable that the 13th Amendment would not apply.

    In Texas, anyway, I believe that if one is imprisoned for not paying a fine (because one is unable), one owes nothing once one’s sentence is served. I may be wrong about that.

  45. Apparently Finland has a graduated system for traffic ticket fines.

    Finnish Drivers Don’t Mind Sliding Scale, But Instant Calculation Gets Low Marks

  46. I beleive we replaced the entire system of criminalized debt long ago, and replaced it with the institution of bankruptcy. But I am also not a lawyer.

  47. JW,

    That is not just TExas that is every state. You get so much knocked off the fine for every day you are in jail. That is pretty standard. You could not consitutionally keep people in jail indefinitely because they refused to pay a fine.

  48. I’m not a lawyer, but it has always been my understanding that in the US one can not be imprisoned for debt, per se.

    Yeah, that per se part sounds like a big loophole. Oh, we are not imprisoning you because you owe money. Probably the easiest way is for the government to convert private debts into tax liabilities and then imprison the “debtor” (who no longer owes a private debt) for tax evasion. I’m sure there are even better ways.

  49. I favor something a little bit different in an anarcho-capitalistic system — instead of being imprisoned, wrong-doers would work to repay restitution to their victims (or their heirs). — Stevo Darkly

    One problem with this is that it makes it less costly (relatively) for wealthier citizens to commit crimes than poorer citizens.

    The Justice System already works like this in many intances, but I think we should be trying to get to the ideal of blind justice, not institutionalizing the opposite.

    Comment by: Adriaan at March 31, 2006 03:13 PM

    “I favor something a little bit different in an anarcho-capitalistic system — instead of being imprisoned, wrong-doers would work to repay restitution to their victims (or their heirs).”

    Stevo, have you read Robert Vroman’s essay, “Hard Cash Trumps Hard Time: Anarchist Prisons”?

    http://www.anti-state.com/vroman/vroman6.html

    Comment by: SR at March 31, 2006 03:15 PM

    I’m with Adrian. Also, I would like to see progressive fines, whereby the convicted pay a percentage of their total wealth.

    JMJ

    Comment by: Jersey McJones at March 31, 2006 03:18 PM

    I’d rather have a situation where there are no fines whatsoever, which means the government has no financial incentive to enforce the law, but simply enforces the law for the ostensible purpose of public safety. Those small towns where the majority of the budget comes from traffic fines are exhibit A for why I feel this way.

    Comment by: Jennifer at March 31, 2006 03:21 PM

    Okay, but how do we replace the maids, gardeners, and nannies? Is Mr. R going to let someone with nine burlgary convictions clean his house?

    Well, since the labor is now free, everyone will have lots of money leftover to hire white people and white people only.

    Comment by: Thomas Paine’s Goiter at March 31, 2006 03:21 PM

    Jersey, the people who thougth a 700-mile fence would defend a 1,700-mile border probably can’t do the math you suggest, either.

    Comment by: Karen at March 31, 2006 03:21 PM

    Jennifer, there may be hope for this country after all! Don’t tread on me, right? We should call you Cool Hand Jennifer from now on 🙂

    JMJ, you mean math like 300 million citizens, all potential convicts/slaves? You mean stupidity like coming to a libertarian site, reading some jokes about enslaving prisoners, and taking them seriously? You mean morality like constantly advocating majority rule, even when it means oppressing a minority? You mean “right” as in not understanding the difference between conservative and libertarian?

    Idiots like Milton Friedman would like to know.

    Comment by: Pro Libertate at March 31, 2006 03:22 PM

    Semi-related:

    Supreme court to review whether inmates can be denied certain reading materials:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060327/ap_on_go_su_co/scotus_inmate_newspapers

    Comment by: Ghost at March 31, 2006 03:25 PM

    If fines were based on a percentage of wealth:

    COP A: Holy shit! That guy is traveling 100 mph in a 25 zone! That’s dangerous!

    COP B: Yeah, but his yearly income is only $5,000 per year. Fuck it, he’s not worth our time. Hey, look! There’s Bill Gates going five miles over the speed limit! Let’s get him!

    Comment by: Jennifer at March 31, 2006 03:26 PM

    Of course as Jesse notes, we are already employing slave labor out of prison population in this country. So the suggestion is really that we put more prisoners to such use. You know, the ones currently considered too risky to sew blue jeans or pick tomatoes.

    Comment by: Warren at March 31, 2006 03:27 PM

    Back to the serious discussion, limited “slavery” of prisoners is, of course, a real practice. However, I think even our crazy governments understand the danger of taking that too far. In addition, labor advocates have always screamed loud and long whenever they have heard the slightest hint of a proposal to make prison labor generally available. While such labor isn’t actually free, it is low cost when compared to the alternative, and would certainly displace traditional labor if used on a wide scale.

    Sorry if I’m getting cranky, JMJ. I’m ill and annoyed, a bad combination.

    Comment by: Pro Libertate at March 31, 2006 03:32 PM

    When I was in law school, it once occurred to me that we could enslave our prison population.

    You guys are pretty lax in your history. This already happened. It was widespread in the South after the civil war to auction off prison labor to the highest bidder. They were treated as slaves by the winner. States even set the laws up so that only prisoners in for less than xxx time could be sold – because whites weren’t convicted for petty crimes.

    Comment by: Thomas Paine’s Goiter at March 31, 2006 03:35 PM

    Jennifer, such rebellion is fine, so long as you like sleeping in The Box.

    Can you eat 50 hard boiled eggs, Jen?

    Comment by: Akira MacKenzie at March 31, 2006 03:36 PM

    Also, I would like to see progressive fines, whereby the convicted pay a percentage of their total wealth.

    You have ideas, write them down, but never think them through, huh?

    Comment by: Thomas Paine’s Goiter at March 31, 2006 03:38 PM

    Thomas Paine’s Goiter, I meant today. Nothing much has changed since the amendment was adopted, legally speaking. Though today’s version of enforced servitude wouldn’t be much like true slavery, since prisoners are considered to retain certain civil liberties. Also, as I and others have mentioned above, something like this goes on today, only it isn’t called “slavery”.

    Comment by: Pro Libertate at March 31, 2006 03:40 PM

    Tom Paine,

    If we had higher standards to send people to prison and would stop imprisoning petty drug users and petty theives and just imprisoned professional theives and violent offenders who deserved to be there, that might not be such a bad system, assuming the work is sufficiently harsh and degrading. Granted, I guess they shouldn’t be competing against honest labor, but if it were the right people, having them out busting rocks or digging ditches is not such a bad idea.

    Comment by: John at March 31, 2006 03:41 PM

    By the way, the case law on the 13th Amendment doesn’t allow us to enslave debtors. Sorry!

    If they ever got serious about using prison labor, there would be an effort to overturn these precedents. I wonder how Roberts and Alito feel about this line of authority. It seems kind of arbitrary to favor debtors over other prisoners. Also, it seems like debtors could generally be trusted at their, errr, jobs more than violent criminals. This really does seem like the most plausible way to increase our prison labor pool.

    Comment by: The Living Constitution at March 31, 2006 03:42 PM

    JMJ –

    Wealth, or income? An awful lot of people have negative net worth but lots of disposable income. I’d hate to see a guy with $300k debt from buying a boat and two hummers get a tiny fine but a guy who’s just retired and paid off his house but has a tiny pension get hosed.

    Comment by: lunchstealer at March 31, 2006 03:49 PM

    I think even that would be preferable to letting some motherfucker make a profit off of me without my consent.

    Jennifer, once you’re incarcerated pretty much everything that happens to you, every minute of every day, happens without your consent. That’s the way it is sort of just by definition.

    That’s just an observation of fact and nothing to do with the merits of this proposal. I’m certainly in agreement with those dismissing this as a dumb (not to mention wrong) idea.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with expecting prisoners to earn their keep. But prison labor has historically been about rather unproductive busy work.

    The problem is that it is never particularly efficient to set people to work on tasks that they lack skills for. And there is some merit to the argument that some subset of the prison population would not have arrived there in the first place if they had marketable skills.

    Comment by: Isaac Bartram at March 31, 2006 03:51 PM

    “By the way, the case law on the 13th Amendment doesn’t allow us to enslave debtors. Sorry!”

    I’m not a lawyer, but it has always been my understanding that in the US one can not be imprisoned for debt, per se. And if debt is not a crime, it is understandable that the 13th Amendment would not apply.

    In Texas, anyway, I believe that if one is imprisoned for not paying a fine (because one is unable), one owes nothing once one’s sentence is served. I may be wrong about that.

    Comment by: jw at March 31, 2006 04:00 PM

  50. Recursive.

  51. Hmmm… the earlier conflation of illegals and prisoners has me thinking. Stay with me here.

    With the combat in the mideast, we now have a difficult time filling slots in the military, and some speak (softly) of a draft.

    It used to be common for a young offender to be given the option of joining the military, as a ‘second chance’ instead of prison.

    Now there is talk of a guest worker program, and in some scenarios the possibilty of eventual citizenship for illegals (but, note, it’s not an amnesty).

    The conclusion of this disjoint syllogism — why not offer immediate citizenship to any illegal immigrant willing to serve in combat? If the estimate of 12 million is close, and if even 10% of those qualify, we have a pool of more than a million young bodies to feed the war effort.

    Our enemies don’t speak English — why should their enemies speak English?

  52. [ Recursive.

    Comment by: Pro Libertate at March 31, 2006 04:28 PM ]

    As in “circular”?

  53. Why not let wages rise to the point where the employers finally start automating, and streamlining their operations.

    Back at the beginning of the Twentieth Century there was an economist, George Valois, who said that due to man’s inherent laziness, employess will only seek technological innovation when they no longer can make a profit cutting wages.

  54. Dr. Duck-

    There’s already something like that….in France. If you get shot while in combat for the duty of the French Foreign Legion, you may become a citizen.

  55. “why not offer immediate citizenship to any illegal immigrant willing to serve in combat?”

    Variations on that scheme have been proposed for the last three years. Google “American Foreign Legion” (in quotation marks).

  56. Below is a partial list of products and services provided by prisoners in the Republic of Colorado:

    http://www.cijvp.com/
    PRODUCTS
    Agriculture

  57. Not incorrect–see the peonage cases. I never said no one ever got locked up for owing debts–tax arrears and your child support example are evidence to the contrary. Of course, those locked up for such debts could be “enslaved”, so I suppose my statement was overbroad, but most debtors are not subject to incarceration.

  58. Wait a sec. “K-9 companion?”

  59. Oh, we are not imprisoning you because you owe money. Probably the easiest way is for the government to convert private debts into tax liabilities and then imprison the “debtor” (who no longer owes a private debt) for tax evasion. I’m sure there are even better ways.

    A “better way” is to just imprison for debt, and it’s actually quite common: see the URL I posted above.

  60. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with expecting prisoners to earn their keep.

    “Having prisoners earn their keep” is a far cry from “having prisoners be the backbone of the agricultural sector.”

  61. Of course, those locked up for such debts could be “enslaved”, so I suppose my statement was overbroad, but most debtors are not subject to incarceration.

    True. And I didn’t mean ‘enslaved’ as in ‘indentured servitude,’ but as in ‘locked in a cage.’

  62. Wait a sec. “K-9 companion?”

    Professor Rumford: ‘But I still don’t understand about hyperspace.’
    Doctor: ‘Well, who does?’
    K9: ‘I do.’
    Doctor: ‘Shut up, K9!’

    By the way, did JMJ just go crazy with the copy-paste or what?

  63. “Having prisoners earn their keep” is a far cry from “having prisoners be the backbone of the agricultural sector.”

    I had hoped I had put enough caveats in my post to not deserve a comeback like that.

    I obviously need to try harder. 🙂

  64. As a Colorado resident I make few excuses for my state’s prison system, but I will point out that the Wild Horse and K-9 Companion programs seem more like charity work and entrance to them is apparently highly competitive.

  65. When I was in law school, it once occurred to me that we could enslave our prison population.

    Well, we do have road crews. BTW: I’m all in favor of chain gangs. As Dennis Miller said once, when you have a thousand, angry, horny guys cooped up together with energy to burn, it’s almost inhumane not to put them to work…

  66. Google “American Foreign Legion” (in quotation marks)

    Ah, very close. But the training in English, etc… too much effort. Next they’ll want armor.

    I say, the enemy of my enemy is my gardener.

  67. Just pay the damned prisoners full wages and let them work.

  68. If somebody already said this I apologize there are an awful lot of comments to read through 🙂

    I used to work at a jail in Boulder, Co. I actually think this isn’t a terrible idea. The truth of the matter is most prisons and jails struggle to find productive things for prisoners to do. Some already work in the kitchen or mop floors or do laundry. Some companies such as Celestial Seasonings already have jail programs so the guys can earn some money.

    So this really doesn’t have the “slavery” thing going on that might presume it does. Another upside of this would be that the guys could get outside and burn off some energy. A group of males locked into an enclosed space that smells like socks tend to get pretty cranky. Fresh air and exercise, I think, would actually do a lot to help keep things cool. As a guy who often managed 15 inmates on his own in the kitchen, this would not be a bad thing.

    How am I going wrong?

  69. My husband is an attorney for the Texas prison system. He says that the security costs would be enormous. There would have to be enough guards for the prisoners still in jail and for each of the work sites, an effective doubling of the guard force. The other problem is the prisoners themselves. Jake, you worked at a county jail, right? That means you had guys awaiting trial and guys in on misdemeanors, mostly drugs, drunkeness of various sorts, minor theft and assault. Those types aren’t much of a danger. In the Big House, you get really scary people who react violently to anyone who gives ’em a dirty look. In one of the max units in Huntsville, the guards wear raincoats all the time because the prisoners pee on them, even though the perps almost always get caught and therefore end up in “administrative segregation” (the new polysyllable for solitary) for weeks. No, the security problems, the perverse incentives to create more prisoners, heck even the quality control for the fruit win this idea a place in the Rotten Ideas Hall of Fame.

    One last comment: when I told Steve about this, he replied that if it’s enacted, we’re buying all our produce from Chile.

  70. After all the discussions, no one has commented on those employers having the gall to ask the Government to **provide** them with cheap labor. Why should the Goverment provide them with anything? What else do they want? To stay rent-free on Federal property, to save on costs? Cheap electricity? Free water and sewer?

    How come no one told them “let the market provide you with the labor you need” and if the costs are too high, figure out a way to cut inefficiencies, moderniza your operations, or consider getting out of business.

  71. Adriana,

    The market is providing them the labor. Evidently the incentives are enough to attract people from thousands of miles away.

    For some reason though a lot of folks object to this.

  72. I not only have lived in Texas a long time, but I had a brother who worked as a prison guard in Huntsville a number of years ago. I can tell you this much: many of the convicts in Texas prisons DO work, both as farm labor and at other occupations involved in making the prison system as self-sufficient as possible. They grow their own food. Working is considered a privilege, especially any work that is done outside, and is subject to good behavior. Obviously the very violent offenders are not allowed to engage in much of this. In the Texas system violent and nonviolent offenders are not usually kept together; there are separate “units”. And yes, there IS “Administrative Segregation” and it IS often a fancy term for solitary confinement. The only thing solitary about it, however, is being locked in a cell by oneself; one is never out of earshot of the other prisoners there, and the unit is a virtual Bedlam I am told. Also, convicts are sometimes sent to Administrative Segregation to protect them from other prisoners. When my brother first became a guard it was his job to escort some of these guys from one place to another and to shield them from the other prisoners.
    As for urinating on the guards or throwing feces at them, I don’t know. My brother never mentioned anything like that, but he worked there in the 90’s and maybe things have gotten worse since. I do know one thing: prison is Hell on Earth and I would not want to spend time there even as a guard.

  73. Simon: If the market was providning them the labor, why are they talking about getting prisoners to do it?

  74. Simon: If the market was providning them the labor, why are they talking about getting prisoners to do it?

    Reread the original post. It’s not EVIL CORPORATIONS MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA that are asking for prisoners. It was a United States Congressman that made the suggestion.

  75. Why should the Goverment provide them with anything? What else do they want? To stay rent-free on Federal property, to save on costs? Cheap electricity? Free water and sewer?

    Feh. Governments hand out these things to corporations all the time, to keep them happy. Free labor will just be icing on the cake.

  76. One of the first duties of any government is to piss on all the fireplugs along the border… mark teritory.

    As for “securing the borders,” ???
    Leaky? Who’d a thunkit?

    Why can’t we just love everybody? Regardless of from whence they come.
    Did anybody else notice Herrick and his Balls seems to have a little yuck issue with African Brillo Pad pubes?
    We need to move beyond.
    I’m just sayin’.
    One man’s meat is another man’s scouring marvel.

  77. My understanding was that prisoners, far from regarding work as punishment, sought it for relief from boredom.

  78. I’m not sure it’s fair to call current prison work programs “slavery”. As far as I understand, they’re not mandatory. In fact quite the opposite, the oppurtunity to get on a work detail is a privelege used to reward good behavior.

    You may not consider picking up litter along the highway to be a reward, but if your other choice was to sit in your closet all day doing nothing, you’d probably jump at the oppurtunity.

    Yes, there’s a lot of people who shouldn’t be in prison. And yes, mandatory work detail would be heinous. But there are violent criminals out there, and short of bringing back a far more widespread use of execution, the only way for people to protect themselves from these people is to physically separate them from the rest of society. Given that, I don’t see why allowing those that want to work to do so is such a horrendous thing.

  79. Stormy Dragon:

    But how are you separating violent criminals from the rest of society if you have them picking litter by the roadside?

    Also, the idea that prisoners are cheap labor does not factor in the cost of housing them, feeding them, guarding them, etc., all provided free by the State.

    Hell, why should employers be the only ones to get such kind of perks by the State? Why can’t I get cheap housing in some Federal land, with the electricity paid for by taxpayers?

  80. >But how are you separating violent criminals
    >from the rest of society if you have them
    >picking litter by the roadside?

    Sheriff’s deputies with shotguns, usually.

    >Also, the idea that prisoners are cheap labor
    >does not factor in the cost of housing them,
    >feeding them, guarding them, etc., all provided
    >free by the State.

    Well, again, unless we get rid of prisons entirely, the costs you mention are sunk. So I don’t see how that’s relevant to a discussion of whether or not to have work release.

    I would point out, however, the work release programs often require prisoners to put some of the earnings toward defraying the costs of thier imprisonment and/or paying restitution to thier victims.

    >Hell, why should employers be the only ones to
    >get such kind of perks by the State?

    Are you sure they are? Have you ever tried hiring a prisoner yourself and been denied?

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