CORPORATE SLAVERY. BP is using slaves from the pri$on industrial complex to clean up the oil spill. The expanding prison population not only hurts millions of families and communities when nonviolent people are incarcerated; but many jobs that Americans think were transferred to other countries with low labor costs were actually outsourced to prisons where labor costs are nil and there are no unions or employee benefits. "Made in the U.S.A." does not necessarily mean that buying a particular product helps to support an American worker in the usual sense. There is much debate regarding prison labor projects. The Center for Research on Globalization carried an article by Vickie Palaez on March 10, 2008, which stated: According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8289
In the first few days after BP’s Deepwater Horizon wellhead exploded, spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, cleanup workers could be seen on Louisiana beaches wearing scarlet pants and white t-shirts with the words "Inmate Labor" printed in large red block letters. Coastal residents, many of whom had just seen their livelihoods disappear, expressed outrage at community meetings; why should BP be using cheap or free prison labor when so many people were desperate for work? The outfits disappeared overnight.
Work crews in Grand Isle, La, still stand out. In a region where nine out of ten residents are white, the cleanup workers are almost exclusively African American men. The racialized nature of the cleanup is so conspicuous that Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, sent a public letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward on July 9, demanding to know why black people were over-represented in “the most physically difficult, lowest paying jobs, with the most significant exposure to toxins.”
Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced and it gets lucrative tax write-offs in the process.
Known to some as “the inmate state,” Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration of any other state in the country. Seventy percent of its thirty-nine thousand inmates are African-American men. The Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) only has beds for half that many prisoners, so twenty thousand inmates live in parish jails, privately-run contract facilities and for-profit work release centers. Prisons and parish jails provide free daily labor to the state and private companies like BP, while also operating their own factories and farms, where inmates earn between zero and forty cents an hour. Obedient inmates, or "trustees," become eligible for work release in the last three years of their sentences. This means they can be a part of a market-rate, daily labor force that works for private companies outside the prison gates. The advantage for trustees is that they get to keep a portion of their earnings, redeemable upon release. The advantage for private companies is that trustees are covered under Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a holdover from Bush's Welfare to Work legislation that rewards private-sector employers for hiring risky "target groups." Businesses earn a tax credit of $2,400 for every work release inmate they hire. On top of that, they can earn back up to 40 percent of the wages they pay annually to "target group workers.”
If BP’s use of prison labor remains an open secret on the Gulf Coast, no one in an official capacity is saying so. At the Grand Isle base camp in early June, I called BP's Public Information line, and visited representatives for the Coast Guard Public Relations team, the Department of Homeland Security, and the La. Fisheries and Wildlife Department. They were all stumped. Were inmates doing shore protection or oil cleanup work? They had no idea. In fact, they said, they'd like to know would I call them if I found out?
I got an answer one evening earlier this month, when I drove up the gravel driveway of the Lafourche Parish Work Release Center jail, just off Highway 90, halfway between New Orleans and Houma. Men were returning from a long day of shoveling oil-soaked sand into black trash bags in the sweltering heat. Wearing BP shirts, jeans and rubber boots (nothing identifying them as inmates), they arrived back at the jail in unmarked white vans, looking dog tired.
Beach cleanup is a Sisyphean task. Shorelines cleaned during the day become newly soaked with oil and dispersant overnight, so crews shovel up the same beaches again and again. Workers wear protective chin-to-boot coveralls (made out of high-density polyethylene and manufactured by Dupont), taped to steel-toed boots covered in yellow plastic. They work twenty minutes on, forty minutes off, as per Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety rules. The limited physical schedule allows workers to recover from the blazing sun and the oppressive heat that builds up inside their impermeable suits.
During their breaks, workers unzip the coveralls for ventilation, drink ice water from gallon thermoses and sit under white fabric tents. They start at 6am, take a half hour lunch and end the day at 6pm, adding up three to four hours of hard physical labor in twenty-minute increments. They are forbidden to speak to the public or the media by BP's now-notorious gag rule. At the end of the day, coveralls are stripped off and thrown in dumpsters, alongside oil-soaked booms and trash bags full of contaminated sand. The dumpsters are emptied into local HazMat landfills, free employees go home and the inmates are returned to work release centers.
Work release inmates are required to work for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, sometimes averaging 72 hours per week. These are long hours for performing what may arguably be the most toxic job in America. Although the dangers of mixed oil and dispersant exposure are largely unknown, the chemicals in crude oil can damage every system in the body, as well as cell structures and DNA.
Inmates can’t pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned "good time." The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: "If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of." This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer.
Prisoners are already subject to well-documented health care deprivations while incarcerated, and are unlikely to have health insurance after release. Work release positions are covered by Worker's Compensation insurance, but pursuing claims long after exposure could be a Kafkaesque task. Besides, there is currently no system for tracking the medical impact of oil and dispersant exposure in cleanup workers or affected communities. "They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence”
To learn how many of the 20,000 prisoners housed outside of state prisons are involved in spill-related labor, I called the DOC Public Relations officer, Pam LaBorde, who ultimately discouraged me from seeking such information. ("Frankly, I do not know where your story is going, but it does not sound positive,” she said on our third phone call.)
Going to prison officials directly didn’t help. The warden of a South Louisiana jail refused to discuss the matter, exclaiming, "You want me to lose my job?" A different warden, of a privately-owned center admitted, on condition of anonymity, that inmates from his facility had been employed in oil cleanup, but declined to answer further questions. Jefferson Parish President Steve Theriot and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, and Grand Isle Police Chief Euris DuBois declined interview requests.
Transparency problems are longstanding with the La. DOC. There is also scant oversight of private prison facilities. Following Hurricane Katrina, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a 140-page report  that documented abuses and botched prison evacuations, as well as the numerous times its requests for official information were rejected. “It appears that you are standing in the shoes of prisoners, and therefore DOC is exempted from providing any information which it might otherwise have to under public records law,” DOC lawyers told the ACLU National Prisons Project .
Some officials have been more forthcoming. A lieutenant in the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office told me that three crews of inmates were sandbagging in Buras, La. in case oil hit there. "They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence,” she said. “They'll work as long as they're needed. It's a hard job because of the heat, but they're not refusing to work." In early May, Governor Bobby Jindal's office sent out a press release  heralding the training of eighty inmates from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in "cleaning of oil-impacted wildlife recovered from coastal areas." DOC Spokesperson Pam LaBorde subsequently denied that any inmates participated in wildlife cleaning efforts.
Offering an exception to this policy of secrecy is Lafourche Parish Work Release Center, the only one in the state that is accredited by the American Correctional Association. It is audited regularly and abides by national standards of safety and accountability, which is perhaps why I was able to simply walk in on a Thursday afternoon and chat with the warden.
Captain Milfred Zeringue is a retired La. state police officer with a jaunty smile, powerful torso, and silver hair. His small, gray office is adorned with photos of many generations of his Louisiana family and a Norman Rockwell print picturing a policeman and a small runaway boy sharing a meaningful look at a soda fountain counter. A brass plaque confers the "Blood and Guts Award" upon Zeringue. Of 184 men living under the Captain's charge, 18 are currently assigned to oil spill work. The numbers change daily and are charted on white boards that stretch down the hallway.
Captain Zeringue says that inmates are glad for any opportunity they can get, and see work release jobs as a step up, a headstart on re-entry. "Our work release inmates are shipped to centers around the state according to employer demand,” he explains, describing the different types of skilled and unskilled labor. “I have carpenters, guys riding on the back of the trash trucks, guys working offshore on the oil rigs, doing welding, cooking. Employers like them because they are guaranteed a worker who's on time, drug-free, and sober.”
“And,” he adds, “because they do get a tax break."
Inside the center, men sit around long plastic tables watching TV, or nap on thin mattresses under grey wool covers. The windowless dormitories hold 20 to 30 men each in blue metal bunk beds. Hard hats hang off of lockers, ceiling fans circle slowly, and each bunk has a white mesh bag of laundry strung from one rung. An air of dejection and fatigue permeates the air, but the facility looks safe and clean. It's surrounded by chain link fence and staffed by former police officers. One long shelf stacked with donated romance and adventure novels serves as a library. GED classes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings gather weekly. Individuals are free to walk around the halls, use pay phones, shoot pool, or sit and watch cars pass on the highway from a small outdoor yard. A doctor visits once a week. Inmates greet the Captain as we walk and jump to hold doors open for us.
Zeringue exudes a certain affection for the workers in his center. "To me, I'm kind of like Dad here. The inmates come to me and talk about their problems. They get antsy and nervous when they're close to getting out--how am I going to survive, how's my family gonna be with me?"
Like all Gulf Coast residents, inmates have good reason to feel anxious about the future. BP has received almost 80,000 claims for lost revenue in the wake of the spill. Scores of people are out of work, the offshore drilling industry is in limbo, and the age-old fishing and shrimping professions are looking death in the face. In the towns and bayous of the Gulf, anxiety and post-traumatic stress are taking hold.
In some places, the desperation is palpable. I met Randy Adams, a construction contractor from Grand Isle, on the sidewalk outside of a local bar. "This BP spill is turning me into an alcoholic, because I don't have anything to do," he says. "That, that, thing--that thing they did--" He points to the beach. He's unable to say “spill” or label it in any way. He points to the water again and again. "That thing has taken everything away from me. I have a gun under the front seat of my truck, and every day I decide, do I want to put a bullet in my skull? Live or die, that's my choice here, every day. My life is gone, do you understand?"
Scott Rojas of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission suggests that for all the work to be done, finding local labor to do oil-spill cleanup jobs is trickier than it would seem. "These are really hard, and really low-paid jobs--I know agencies have put effort into finding locals to do the work. But they may not always have an easy time of it. As for reports of inmates being hired, I can't confirm or deny. The people down in Grand Isle swear to it, but you're going to have to talk to them."
The Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state unemployment agency, is advertising hazardous waste removal oil spill cleanup positions as "green jobs." They pay $10 per hour, so these jobs might seem like an attractive opportunity. But Paul Perkins, a retired Angola Prison deputy warden who owns and operates five for-profit inmate work release centers, says that even as the agency is “overflowing with applications for oil spill jobs,” the work force is inconsistent. “They might hire 400 people on Monday, and after one day of work, only 200 will come back on Tuesday.”
Hiring prison labor might prove more reliable, but it evokes understandable rage among Gulf Coast residents. According to Perkins, the Louisiana Secretary of Corrections, James LeBlanc, met with disaster contractors in early June and asked them to stop using inmate labor until all unemployed residents found work. But as the spill has so dramatically demonstrated, in this new environment, the government seems only able to make polite requests. BP calls the shots, and their private contractors, like ES&H, are the sole clean-up operators. From there, subcontractors, such as Able Body Labor , decide who to employ.
Working for BP: "This isn't what I would like to be doing.”
Anna Keller relocated to Grand Isle in May to work with Gulf Recovery LLC, to help develop community-based responses to the oil disaster. Also a member of Critical Resistance New Orleans , Keller says, it is "common knowledge” that prisoners are doing cleanup. “If you talk to anyone working on the beach they'll tell you, yes, prisoners are working here." She describes a shipping container that sits at the turn-off for the Venice Boat Harbor. It advertises "Jails to Go," a company that installs barred windows and bunks in shipping containers so that they can hold work-release prisoners.
According to Keller, the use of inmate labor takes recovery one step further away from those people who are most intimate with the ecology, culture, and landscapes of the area. In her view, they should be hired first, and not just for the grunt jobs. "Community members should be hired in the planning stages, and paid for their expertise. The local people are the true experts here.”
Up the road at A-Bear's Restaurant in Houma, an elderly man in overalls describes his son's financial dilemmas to the room of locals over dinner. The son is forty, married with children, and was laid off from an oyster shucking factory shortly after the BP leak began. He's now walking door-to-door with a lawnmower, looking for grass to cut. The man holds his head in both arthritic hands. The waitress hands him a paper napkin to blot his eyes. I ask him if his son would work for BP in the cleanup and he grimaces. "Maybe, no, I don't think so,” he says. “That would be hard for his pride, you know? For that little money? No."
Beach cleanup workers do make the lowest wages in the recovery effort. Others on the BP payroll have it slightly better, but the jobs they are doing are a daily reminder of what they have lost. Chris Griffin is a French-speaking Cajun shrimper whose father and grandfather also captained shrimp boats. After oil contamination closed the Gulf waters, Griffin was hired to captain airboat tours of oil-impacted marshlands for BP. Three times a day he steers a slim four-seat boat with a deafening engine into the waters he's known all his life, while Coast Guard officials give media tours and answer the same grim questions again and again.
Michael Douglas and wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, leave courtroom after Cameron Douglas's sentencing
(18 paragraphs, 5 links, signature block w/AIMI icon)Many young people wrestle with emotional problems. Actor Michael Douglas explained to a judge that his son does. Cameron Douglas's emotional problems led him to a heroin dependency that will now cost him five years in prison, the court ruled Tuesday. People with psychological problems frequently turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to “get their heads on straight.” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) reports that nearly two million full-time college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence. Most of them, like Cameron, began using drugs as teens. But rather than treating them for drug dependency, hundreds of thousands of people are jailed on possession and trafficking charges. Prison is a cruel, ineffective, and very expensive way to address such problems. Below is an excerpt from a CASA report about the cost of America’s War on Drugs:
Substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments at least $467.7 billion in 2005 . . .The CASA report found that of $373.9 billion in federal and state spending, 95.6 percent ($357.4 billion) went to shovel up the consequences and human wreckage of substance abuse and addiction; only 1.9 percent went to prevention and treatment, 0.4 percent to research, 1.4 percent to taxation and regulation, and 0.7 percent to interdiction.(Access the full report at this link:http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/Home.aspx?articleid=287&zoneid=32 )
The fact that less than 2% of the colossal War on Drugs price tag goes to prevention and treatment is disappointing but not surprising.Immediately after the Civil War, the prison industrial complex arose to replace slavery and continue profits from America’s skin trade.Many officials who make decisions about health care and criminal justice matters are prison investors.Their stock portfolios improve by enacting tough-on-crime laws while seriously limiting funds for research and treatment opportunities for drug addiction and mental illness.Consequently, 2.3 million people are presently incarcerated.This gives the United States the distinction of imprisoning more people than any nation in world history.Over two-thirds of incarcerations result from criminalizing mental illness and drug dependency and drove our prison costs to more than $50 billion annually.Prison profiteers in public service have a major conflict of interest.They ensure the success of their business interests by limiting resources for treatment that would reduce incarcerations, decrease crime, and restore scores of people with drug addictions and psychological problems to wholesome lives.
Many people know firsthand how hard it is to overcome bad habits like cigarette smoking or overeating.Stress usually intensifies cravings for another cigarette or chocolate bar.Likewise, people with drug addictions and/or mental health challenges are not improved by criminalizing their conditions and banishing them to prison cells.Instead, they have a high recidivism rate and usually revolve in and out of “correctional” facilities because treatment is not prioritized.Instead, addicts and mentally ill people are seemingly preserved untreated to become future prisoners of America. This was demonstrated recently when inpatient treatment in mental hospitals and drug treatment centers was omitted from H.R.3200, the national health care reform bill that Congress passed.
Middle-class and indigent families lack the finances to pay for treatment in private facilities, but public facilities continue to close across the country.The hospital closures that began in the 1970’s when Medicaid was withdrawn for inpatient treatment continue to occur although treatment is more effective and financially prudent than imprisonment for addressing drug addiction and mental illness.The nation’s best hope for remedy is to pass H.R.619, a congressional bill that was introduced in January 2009 by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX) to amend Title XIX of the Social Security Act and resume Medicaid for mental hospital patients who qualify for assistance.
Unfortunately, H.R. 619 has powerful opposition precisely because passing the bill would create treatment options that would negatively impact prison profits.Police would have mental health facilities to deliver individuals to when they have a crisis rather than to jail, and many of them would actually get better, avoid crime, and never go or return to prison.Whereas passing H.R.619 would benefit We the People, it would be devastating for prison profiteers.Some municipalities have agreements with private prison companies that guarantee them a certain number of inmates.Officials have quotas to fill and do not plan to be impeded by treating mentally ill people and drug users who are intended to populate the prisons.
This writer has much interference using online services to notify the public about H.R.619, the bill that would help decriminalize mental illness.See more information about the secret congressional bill at this link at OpenCongress.org, where supporters can VOTE for the bill: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h619/show - No reports about H.R.619 have been published by mainstream media, according to OpenCongress.org.That omission is very suspect since one in five Americans is estimated to have mental illness, and 1.25 million mentally ill people are already imprisoned.That number is augmented by hundreds of thousands of other inmates who are not diagnosed with mental illness but are incarcerated like Cameron Douglas for crimes related to drug addiction.Many such persons also have an underlying emotional problem that led them to drugs, just as Michael Douglas said his son has.
Considering who Cameron Douglas is, financial considerations likely did not prevent the young man from participating in a drug treatment program.However, people with drug and alcohol dependencies and psychological problems frequently reject treatment, and it leads to their incarceration.That is why drug courts and mental health courts are important.The choice of whether to accept treatment is removed from defendants facing imprisonment, and judges can order them into treatment instead of prison if their criminal charges and backgrounds meet certain criteria.Support for jail diversion programs is growing.In fact, the Department of Justice recently invested significant sums in jail diversion programs and the Second Chance Act to monitor and treat people who wrestle with mental illness and/or drug addictions.Some states, however, do not allow judges any discretion to use jail diversion programs rather than prison.Instead, mandatory sentencing laws enacted by elected officials (who may be prison profiteers) preclude the judges’ ability to make allowances for extenuating circumstances like the emotional problems Michael Douglas described regarding his son, Cameron.
Members of Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill (AIMI) join TAC and 210,000 NAMI members in supporting H.R.619 to resume Medicaid insurance for mental hospitals.We also advocate for all states to eliminate mandatory sentencing and three-strikes laws like New York did recently, repeal the death penalty like New Mexico, and continue to reduce the number of people sentenced to prison, especially regarding defendants with non-violent drug charges and the mentally ill.
Below is an excerpt of a report on Cameron Douglas’ sentencing published April 20, 2010, by Reuters.
(Reuters) - The son of Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas was sentenced on Tuesday to five years in prison for possessing heroin and dealing large amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine out of a New York hotel room.
Cameron Douglas, 31, pleaded guilty to the charges in January, following his arrest last year at the trendy Gansevoort Hotel in Manhattan.
In court, Douglas apologized to his family for "this nightmare of my own making" and admitted to a long heroin addiction.
His father, Michael Douglas, wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency. He said Cameron had battled with drugs since age 13.
"I have some idea of the pressure of finding your own identity with a famous father," said Douglas, whose own father is actor Kirk Douglas. "I'm not sure I can comprehend it with two generations to deal with."
The War on Drugs has had many casualties, like all wars.Scores of police officers and drug users/dealers have been killed.As with any war, there are innocent victims.Thousands of family members, including children, mourn their dead, and thousands more must face life without their imprisoned parents, spouses, siblings, and offspring.Many parents experience pain because their children were ensnared by drugs, and Michael Douglas is among them. Added to the human suffering is the financial burden of conducting the War on Drugs. Like military conflicts, the expense drains resources needed to address other concerns. It costs around $500 billion per year to ascertain and imprison those who violate drug laws.There is no exit strategy for this war and no end in sight.It seems prudent, therefore, to launch a sustained assault on the cause the problem instead of the people who have the problem.CASA reports that 65 percent of all U.S. inmates meet the medical criteria for substance abuse addiction, but only 11 percent receive any treatment. Obviously, it is time to fight drug addiction and mental illness with treatment, not with bullets and prison terms.
JAIL IS THE LAST THING THAT MENTAL PATIENTS NEED, AND TOO OFTEN, IT IS THE VERY LAST THING THEY EXPERIENCE. Please join our effort to decriminalize mental illness. No one deserves to be punished for having a disability.
Thanks in advance for voting at OpenCongress.org for H.R.619.
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