The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and American companies are exploiting this phenomenon by making money off the country’s prison system, human rights activists have warned.
Former prisoners, their relative and rights advocates have called for the boycott of corporations and businesses earning profits from the US prisoners, saying all attempts to reform mass incarceration through the traditional mechanisms have been rendered useless.
The campaign, led by the Interfaith Prison Coalition, is directed against dozens of companies that exploit prison labor. The movement also calls on institutions, especially churches and universities, to divest from corporations that use prison labor.
“America is financially addicted and hopelessly obsessed with caging bodies and arresting their citizens and this of course they’re profiting off of,” said Five Omar Mualimm-ak, a prison reform activist in New York City.
“We have a [financial] dependency on prisons,” Mualimm-ak, who served almost 12 years in prison for trivial violations, told Press TV.
Campaigners who are based in New Jersey are demanding prisoners get paid at least the prevailing minimum wage of the state in which they are held. New Jersey’s minimum wage is $8.38 an hour, but a prisoner in New Jersey makes on average $1.20 for eight hours of work.
Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 0.17 cents an hour. However, phone companies often charge increased fees by more than 100 percent.
According to a recent article in Truthdig, 40 US states allow private corporations to exploit prison labor and prison administrators across the US are lobbying corporations that have sweatshops overseas, trying to lure them into the prisons with guarantees of even cheaper labor.
The Truthdig article names corporations like AT&T, Wal-Mart and Chevron, among more than a dozen others which are currently exploiting prison labor.
In New Jersey, the first boycott will be directed against Global Tel Link, a private phone company that charges prisoners and their families high rates. A fifteen minute phone call inside the prison costs $17.00. Outside of prison that same phone call costs costumers less than $2.00.