On a daily basis, the Florida Department of Corrections commits human rights violations against tens of thousands of people incarcerated in its 50 prisons. In one of the warmest states in the country, DOC seems to be boasting when it reports that most prisons are not air-conditioned. Prisoners are expected to work for free, whether it is working in the cafeteria, cleaning the prison, washing the guards’ cars, or building expansions to the prisons. Over 30 DOC facilities are actually called “work camps.” Failure to report to work can result in weeks in a confinement cell.
The prison industrial complex is literally written into the laws of Florida. In 1981, the state legislature founded P.R.I.D.E. Enterprises, which is a private non-profit organization that has a monopoly on inmate labor in Florida. Inmates with good institutional disciplinary histories are eligible to work for P.R.I.D.E. Enterprises where they are paid less than $1.00/hour to produce a tremendous variety of products for the government, such as furniture and office supplies for government offices, uniforms for inmates and police departments, license plates, and lumber. Reminiscent of plantation slavery, inmates also work in sugarcane and citrus fields. This is all perfectly legal in capitalist America, because the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution exempts penal labor from its prohibition against forced labor.
Being assigned to work for P.R.I.D.E. is coveted by inmates, and understandably so. The food and staples that DOC provides being insufficient, prisoners have to rely on purchasing supplemental nutrition and basic supplies from the “canteen” where prices are extortionate. Prisoners report that a case of soup that normally costs $4 is priced at $17 in DOC’s canteen. This is the absurdity and cruelty of being imprisoned in a capitalist society in which the richest 400 people in the country have more wealth than the poorest 50 percent of U.S. families combined. Prisoners are exploited for their slave labor while being subjected to price-gouging for basic human needs. It incentivizes mass incarceration–the most insidious form of state-sponsored brutality in the world–in which Black people are five times as likely to be in prison than a white person.
The U.S. prison system must be completely dismantled and that in its place a humane system must be employed. Besides drastically reducing the number of prisoners, those who are in prison should be humanely treated, with right to real rehabilitation, education, in-person visitation, and to a decent wage for their job assignments so that they can save for a future and help their families.
Those seeking to improve prison conditions do not minimize or ignore the suffering of victims of violent crimes. Accountability for harming others must be addressed, and victims need resources to heal. The current penal system does not do that. Victims and the community at-large would benefit from smashing the current system and building of a humane and evidence-based justice system. For instance, the restorative justice model–an approach to criminal justice that involves victim and community participation and focuses on why a crime was committed–has been proven to better address the needs of victims and lower rates of reoffending. However, it is rarely implemented in the current criminal “justice” system because this approach to crime is not profitable.
As a revolutionary movement that is capable of smashing the system continues to grow, true revolutionaries also believe it is important to participate in present struggles for reforms, which could improve the lives of millions of people currently incarcerated in the United States. All progressive and revolutionary people should stand in solidarity with the brave Florida inmates participating in Operation PUSH beginning on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of 2018. Inmates are demanding reasonable reforms that are possible even under capitalism, including payment for labor, reducing canteen prices, and reinstituting parole, which was effectively abolished in Florida in 1983. Support their decision to begin a work stoppage to make DOC feel the effects of being deprived of inmate labor.
Mass incarceration in the United States is the product of modern capitalism, which utilizes prisons to incarcerate and commoditize the people it has rendered jobless and unproductive. Instead of fostering the potential of every human being with healthcare, housing, education, culture and meaningful employment or income, capitalism is driving millions of people, especially young people of color, into permanent destitution.
It does not have to be this way forever. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters behind bars. We on the outside will continue to fight for a complete overhaul of the system for one that prioritizes human rights, rehabilitation and recovery for both offender and victim.