Prisons

Why Is California Fighting the Release of Non-Violent Inmates? Cheap Labor.

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Just because it's history doesn't mean it's not still happening.

California has had a prison overcrowding problem for years and has been ordered, repeatedly, to reduce the problem, so bad it has been determined to be cruel and unusual punishment.

California hasn't done a particularly good job at meeting goals (maybe the recent passage of Proposition 47 might help). Federal judges have ordered them to expand the parole program to let more folks out and determined that the state had not implemented an order from all the way back in February.

The Los Angeles Times reported the order, along with this rather interesting explainer of why the state was resisting letting prisoners out early:

Most of those prisoners now work as groundskeepers, janitors and in prison kitchens, with wages that range from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour. Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.

Prisoners' lawyers countered that the corrections department could hire public employees to do the work.

So, yeah, that's a pretty horrifying argument for keeping people in overcrowded prisons. Adam Serwer followed up over at BuzzFeed, and Harris is pulling a page from President Barack Obama's playbook. She says she had no idea this was going on:

"I will be very candid with you, because I saw that article this morning, and I was shocked, and I'm looking into it to see if the way it was characterized in the paper is actually how it occurred in court," Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview Monday. "I was very troubled by what I read. I just need to find out what did we actually say in court."

Serwer identifies the actual attorney responsible for the argument as Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney. His argument extends even further than what the Times reported. California uses thousands of prisoners to help fight wildfires, each paid $2 a day. In a roundabout fashion, releasing prisoners early could reduce the number of firefighters they'd have available. Read more here.

The feds did not find the arguments compelling. To me, what's fascinating (and scary) is what's going to happen when the state does indeed have to hire hundreds, possibly thousands of new public employees to do the work they were getting on the cheap. These employees will, of course, be unionized, well-paid (in comparison with both the prisoners and what they'd get in the private sector) and would qualify for some very nice pensions that would put California even further in debt. It could possibly demolish Gov. Jerry Brown's (already inaccurate) claims the state no longer has a budget deficit.

Oh, and as a reminder: California raised its minimum wage to $9 an hour in July. It goes up to $10 an hour in 2016.

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63 responses to “Why Is California Fighting the Release of Non-Violent Inmates? Cheap Labor.

  1. Ohhhh, the schadenfreude is just delicious!

    *pops more popcorn – adjust seating position in easy chair*

    1. OH! And also:

      *spins up Pretenders “Back on the Chain Gang” on the old Victrola*

      1. You realize that song isn’t actually about being in a chain gang right?

        1. Thanks for bringing the derp, Sturm und Drangy

      2. boooo. Horrible song.

        *changes radio station*

    2. Prison guards unions vs public employee unions — cage match! No one comes out until the last one dies.

    3. Yeah, but it still sucks to be an eligible prisoner.

      Also, Ms. Harris is suffering no ill-effects since they’ve effectively been ignoring court orders for years. Only when she gets cited for contempt and locked up herself will this change.

  2. Most of those prisoners now work as groundskeepers, janitors and in prison kitchens, with wages that range from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour. Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.

    If you let enough people out, you need fewer workers to maintain prisons…

    1. Arbeit macht frei!

      1. You know who else…hey, wait a second!!!!

  3. Serious question, in light of this, how is the State of California any different or better than China? Both governments imprison large numbers of its citizens on dubious grounds and keep them imprisoned to use them has slave labor. Sure, China imprisons people for being in the Fulon Gong or saying bad things about the government and California does it for taking drugs or being too poor to pay your traffic tickets. China’s reasons are qualitatively worse but not that much worse and both justifications are immoral. They just differ in the degree of immorality involved.

    1. Well their both leftist utopias so it shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m more and more convinced all the time that the only difference between, communists, nazis, fascists, socialists, and progressives is language.

      Look at how the left hated George Bush for being a war monger, yet now swoon for Obama as he does the same thing. The only difference between the two foreign policy wise, is that Obama uses the language of the left.

      1. They hated Bush for being a war monger because he fought a war to rid the world of Islamic fascism. Meanwhile, they worship at the alter of FDR because he fought a war to rid the world of European and Japanese fascism.

      2. There’s some differences around the edges, ie. Communist want public ownership of production while fascist and socialist advocate for nominal private ownership with public control. But yeah, most of the differences are cosmetic.

    2. Re: John,

      Serious question, in light of this, how is the State of California any different or better than China?

      California has better bitches.

      I-I mean beaches. Beaches!

  4. It’s worth a reminder that the U.S. never *totally* abolished slavery:

    “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.” – U.S. Constitution, Amendment 13

    This seems to be a bit more of a loophole than anticipated.

    1. I don’t have a problem with prisoners working to earn their keep. The problem is how many people we are throwing in jail, not that we are expecting them to work.

      This is like taking the vote away from felons. The problem is not that we don’t let felons vote. It is that we consider a whole lot of people “felons” who shouldn’t be.

      Also, allowing prisoners to work helps make jails and prisons more humane. Nearly every prisoner is happy to have a chance to work if only to pass the time. In addition, it gives them a chance to do something productive and show that they are ready to re-enter society.

      A lot of people have been able to rebuild their lives thanks to prisons offering work and training programs.

      1. Yes, OK, that’s all true.

      2. Unfortunately doing anything that would reduce the number of felons would get you labeled as being “soft on crime” in today’s political climate.

        The concept that one could both want tough sentence for people that actually hurt others (rapists, murderers, etc) and not wanting to lock people up for smoking pot, of seeing prostitute seems lost on most people.

        1. Part of the problem is the way the question is phrased. It is not about being soft or tough on crime. It is about at what point should I as a taxpayer be willing to pay for keeping someone out of society. That is the question that needs to be asked.

          Sure, I may wish people were more responsible and didn’t use drugs. But am I as a taxpayer willing to pay to lock these people up and to support them to save them from their own irresponsibility? I am not.

          Libertarians forget that the drug war does occasionally save people. There really are people who are such fucking degenerates going to prison is the only think that kept them from killing themselves on drugs. Libertarians shouldn’t pretend that is not true. They should admit it is true and ask people “do you really want to pay taxes to save the David Crosbys of the world from themselves?” I sure as hell don’t. I will happily pay to keep the really dangerous people out of society. But David Crosby? Fuck him, I don’t see why I should pay a dime to save him from his own irresponsibility.

        2. I would love to hear Rand Paul say “I am soft on victimless crime.”

      3. In addition, it gives them a chance to do something productive and show that they are ready to re-enter society.

        I have a feeling that all the good union groundskeepers, janitors, and kitchen workers see former prisoners entering “their” labor market as a bug, not a feature. Which is pretty much what I thought the headline meant.

    2. 1) Create loophole to slavery
      2) Create a buncha new slaves via making everything criminal
      2) Become dependent on said slave labor
      3)?
      4) Profit!

      1. California appears to have eliminated step 3, and maybe step 2B as well.

        1. Given the state’s finances, 4 seems iffy as well.

    3. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude

      Has no one tried to sue the government over whether the income tax constitutes “involuntary servitude?”

      1. Unfortunately, later amendments override earlier amendments, which means the 16th overrides the 13th.

  5. I agree with the immorality of it. The very idea they’re espousing is basically indentured servitude at best, and outright slavery at worst.

    1. “and outright slavery at worst”

      Which could be perfectly legal, see above.

  6. “I will be very candid with you, because I saw that article this morning, and I was shocked

    HAHAHA! This is so pathetic, it’s hilarious. TEAM BLUE really loves that line, don’t they? Was Kamala out on the golf course with Obama?

  7. Ned: “This keeps up, you’re gonna put me out of business! With this pool of slave labor you got, you can underbid any contractor in town.”
    Norton: “Ned, we’re providing a valuable community service.”

    1. Was gonna say – time to watch Shawshank!

    2. Warty, how can you be so obtuse?

      1. What? What did you call him?

      2. +1 That’s Cristo, ya dumb shit

  8. Looks like this infographic needs an update:
    Nearly 36 Million People Live In Modern Slavery

  9. So the state actually has direct incentive to throw people in prison and not release them. Who could’ve ever seen this coming?

  10. War on women hunters continues unabated.

    http://www.fieldandstream.com/…..SOC&dom=fb

    1. Why do I expect to hear the sounds of crickets chirping from the various feminist blogs over this one?

    2. If we don’t hunt black bears to thin the population, where do these people think the bears are going to live? Do they really want a bear living in their back yard?

      1. I think some of them are dumb enough to actually want the cops to come out and shoot them instead.

      2. Plus bear probably tastes a lot like wild pig. Similar diets. Well, unless they live off trash. Then they probably taste like domestic pig.

        1. I have had bear once. I thought it was stringy and greasy. Can’t say I liked it at all. Wild boar on the other hand is very tasty.

          1. Depends on age to a large extent. Maybe you had an old tough male bear.

            1. Probably so. I haven’t had it enough to judge I guess. Something about eating an omnivore that bugs me. I prefer my meat to come off the hoof.

              1. I have no problem with eating omnivores. Chickens are omnivores. There’s a reason why the poor bastard chickens that are stuck in cages and fed nothing but poultry scratch taste like shit and lay eggs with pitiful tasteless yellow yolks. Shit, even squirrels will eat meat when they can get it.

                1. That’s true. But chickens only eat bugs. Not quite the same as a bear.

                  1. True, it does seem to make a difference if the animal eats meat. I wouldn’t particularly want to eat a dog or a lion.

      3. The conservationists have been trying to get across that bears won’t forage low-fat berries in the woods when they can get their caloric requirements in one dumpster.

        1. And once they get dependent on that, they lose their ability to forage in the wild. They just become big, dangerous pets.

      4. Do they really want a bear living in their back yard?

        A lot of the tree-huggers I talk to (the ones that feed whitetail deer corn and table scraps) think watching a bear in “nature” would be just wonderful. Right up until said bear eats their doggy or kitty.

    3. War on women hunters continues unabated.

      If we don’t regularly cull the population, women will breed out of control and there will be people all over the place.

    4. You see this every time some hot chick poses with a dead animal. It’s like the anti-hunting retards expect white redneck men to be evil but they expect better of womyn or something. Jesus Christ, the KULTUR WAR is tiresome.

  11. One other thing is worth noting. This post shows the idiocy and the incentive structure of government. Taken as a whole, prisoners are not cheap labor. It is a lot cheaper to hire a landscaping firm to mow the lawn than it is to pay to lock a guy up, feed him and guard him 24/7. So the total cost of this labor is astronomical if you consider the cost of incarceration.

    These idiots only consider it “cheap labor” because the cost to lock these people up doesn’t come out of their operating budget. If it did, they wouldn’t be using them to mow lawns. So this labor is not cheap and the state is in no way getting a benefit from using it. All having them do labor does is lower the total cost of keeping them incarcerated. It doesn’t save the state a dime of money.

    1. That’s a good point. It parallels one of the counterarguments against conscription: a conscript army is not cheaper than a volunteer army, it’s just that the cost falls on the conscripts rather than on taxpayers as a whole.

      1. One of the reasons why government does crazy things is that it is paid for out of all kinds of different pots of money. It is why the government will defer maintenance on a building until it falls in and then spend three times the amount of money it would have taken to maintain the building in the first place to build a whole new building. Construction money comes from a different pot of money.

        Here, the cost of incarceration is paid for largely by the state. So the counties and cities who benefit from prison labor look at it as being free.

    2. John, you are right that it is worst in government, but I see the same shit in large businesses, too. Especially ones who make it a point to hire ex-bureaucrats.

  12. what’s going to happen when the state does indeed have to hire hundreds, possibly thousands of new public employees to do the work they were getting on the cheap.

    SOCIAL JUSTICE!

    duh

  13. If they are going to release a great deal of inmates, wouldn’t the need for many of the services provided by cheap inmate labor be reduced substantially? If what the corrections department said is true, the department is arguing that they will need to hire more workers (and have an increased budget) to look after fewer inmates. Totally fucked up.

    1. If they are going to release a great deal of inmates, wouldn’t the need for many of the services provided by cheap inmate labor be reduced substantially?

      Not really. The prisons are overcrowded, therefore reducing the population to capacity won’t reduce the number of prisons needed. The same amount of grass will keep growing, the same area of floors will still get dirty, and the same kitchens have to operate.

  14. my best friend’s sister-in-law makes $74 every hour on the internet . She has been out of work for six months but last month her payment was $19486 just working on the internet for a few hours. see this here ….

    ?????? http://www.payinsider.com

  15. Seems like this should be even more expensive when the class-action for wage and hour violations is filed. On what ground is the prison system immune? Maybe there is one. I need to find an ex con and get him as a named plaintiff and find out. How much underpayment has there been for the past 3 years plus interest, attorneys fees, penalties, etc?

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