With the imprisonment of a mass group of individuals behind bars, the United States is known for its cryptic and unjust prison carceral system. As time passes and the new year starts, little by little the exposure of the harsh realities of the carceral cycle and system is brought to light - dawning upon the eyes of the general public as more people slowly begin to educate themselves on the mistreatment occurring behind prison walls. Yet the discrimination and targetting of POC communities with the mass incarceration system and the abuse that occurs within jails are not the only issues that present itself with the unveiling of prison cruelties. Recently with the article published by the intercept this month, Akela Lacy writes regarding the unlivable wages that are forced upon imprisoned peoples as they work for a few cents a day.
With the height of Covid, prisoners were forced to work labor jobs - including unsafe ones– for pay that was not adequate to properly reside within a prison.
It is quoted by Lacy’s article that, “People incarcerated in New York state prisons have documented their working conditions…[they] describe unlivable wages of cents per hour; retaliation against people who miss or refuse to perform the work, in the form of assault and threats of relocation to dangerous cell blocks; and inability to afford basic necessities required to survive in prison” (Lacy, 2022).
With the peak of Covid, it was exposed how some of the jobs made to be performed by the incarcerated were dangerous, such as working with lead paint and asbestos abasement- often jobs that people don’t wish to partake in for the sake of their own health. Due to the unwillingness of others to perform these occupations that are necessary, prison systems force the occupation fields onto those who are imprisoned, unable to escape and in need of work in order to survive. An abuse of power and circumstance comes into play as those who need toiletries, stamps, and other essentials have no other choice but to put their lives either on the line, or work for unlivable wages in order to attempt to make ends meet.
With the mentioned abuses of power, those incarcerated are forced to maintain positions of work that the prison system are reliant on to function, yet with the pay which enables abusive mistreatment and unsafe living conditions. With this, we can see how the carceral system not only takes advantages of the imprisoned now, but is related to several peculiar institutions in America that have stripped individuals from their humanity in order to reap free or cheap labor and the ostracizing of minority groups in order to justify the taking advantage of said groups. This concept in particular is explained by the journal of Loic Waquant, “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration” where we look into how throughout the history of the United States, there has always been a peculiar institution in existence that not only disproportionately affected black americans and POC communities, but that have mistreated and isolated groups for the sake of justifying exploition for free or cheap labor.
The United States of America is built off the labor of not only those who were enslaved, but the labor of those who were improperly paid during the Jim Crow Era and the work of those who were forced into less invested in communities labeled as ‘ghettos’ during the 1900’s.
The carceral system in general is heavily reliant on the cheap labor they obtain from the exploitation of the incarcerated to run their kitchens, facilities, ect, making the U.S as a nation now, currently being built off the labor of the exploited- just how it took advantage of these similar groups during both the Jim Crow Era and Slavery in the 1600’s-1800’s (Waquant, 2002). Due to this, the comparison of the current carceral system to enslavement in the U.S is not far-reaching, for despite the fact we ‘believe’ difference has been made, the abuse has only become more hidden with both its intent and application.
So today, we find ourselves ‘blissfully unaware’ of how dependent the U.S is on the incarceration system to promote the unawareness of the public as well as the subjugation of those from POC communities or impoverished communities/cities. The neglect of mass groups of individuals leads to those who have the power to create change, to often overlook the mistreatment taking place under their noses, and without the awareness on how the stain of mass incarceration both currently and historically has exercised the subjugation and exploitation of the imprisoned, there will be no indifference in the future as these systems will continue to run in silence.
Wacquant, Loic. “Loic Wacquant, from Slavery to Mass Incarceration, NLR 13, January–February 2002.” New Left Review, 2002, https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii13/articles/loic-wacquant-from-slavery-to-mass-incarceration.
Lacy, Akela. “Incarcerated People Forced to Do Dangerous Work for ‘Slave’ Wages at Height of Pandemic.” The Intercept, The Intercept, 12 Dec. 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/12/12/covid-new-york-prison-labor/.