[OPE-L:6962] the cost of prisons

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Wed Apr 10 2002 - 21:38:16 EDT

In [6959] Paul B wrote:

> Nevertheless if we take the example of modern prison labour, it is not
> and certainly produces commodiites capitalistically, commodities whose
> is regulated by the market. However the price of the labour power is not.
> Do we have an anology here for Jerry to use in the case of US ' modern'
> slavery, but not in the case of other pre capitalistic societies?

Let us consider this question more:

1) can prisons, when they manufacture 'commodities', be said to 'produce
commodities capitalistically'?  To produce capitalistically,  the entity
must represent a capitalist enterprise -- but rather than being privately
owned and controlled prisons they are part of the state apparatus.

2) prisons are not structured on a 'for profit' basis.

3) the funding for prisons represents a *deduction* from surplus value.

4) prisoners are "free" in no sense of the term (other than, typically,  the
freedom to work or stay in one's jail cell.)

5) even where the products of prison labor are sold on the market, the
cost to imprison individuals in the US is significantly higher than the
market price of the 'commodity' output produced per prisoner.  As of 1996,
the average cost nationally to the state per prisoner per year was $17, 650.
Do you really think then that the market price of the 'commodity output'
(producing items like license plates, or grooming pets, or cleaning city
parks or building roads) is greater than $17,650/annum/prisoner?  (If not,
then one might say wryly -- if one believes in such fictions -- that the
prisoners are engaged in the production of 'negative surplus value' and are
'exploiting' the state! I trust though that Paul does not want to make that
argument -- nor do I [but the possibility of negative s has been defended in
past by other listmembers].)  [NB: obviously the costs of imprisonment/
prisoner vary very significantly internationally.]

Consequently, I would explain the cost of prisons differently: they
represent a deduction from surplus value paid for by taxation. To the
extent that there is prison labor, it might partially defray some of these
(often very high/prisoner) costs.  I don't believe, though, that the
production of 'commodities' is the purpose of prison labor: rather it is
another way in which the state can control the daily lives of prisoners,
break their resistance, and prepare them for the day when they can be
released from prison and then have the honor of being exploited as
wage-laborers by capitalists.

A *different* form of prison labor has developed, though, in recent years
in the US: *the corporate use of prison labor*.  Federal laws require (as I
understand them) that prisoners must give consent for them to be employed
in this  manner and that if they are producing goods that are to become part
of "domestic commerce" then they must be paid the "prevailing wage" (this
normally means the "minimum wage").  [NB: A loophole in the law, though,
allows corporations to pay prison laborers below the "prevailing wage"
if the goods are not sold on domestic markets, i.e. if they are exported!]
In these cases, though, I think we are talking about  *wage-labor*
employed by capital -- even though there is a lack of some aspects of
"freedom" normally associated with wage-labour (e.g. the state obviously
restricts who they can be employed by).

In solidarity, Jerry

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