[OPE-L:6970] Re: the cost of prisons

From: paul bullock (paulbullock@ebms-ltd.co.uk)
Date: Fri Apr 12 2002 - 03:44:26 EDT


Fine... so now we are examining  labourers imprisoned by  capitalist
society, and which in some cases more or les compells them to work. ie
Lets take this aspect  of the use of the modern prisoner. It would require
better study of overall costs
etc.. as you say to asses whether thgis was profitablke, or an attempt
simply to reduce state expenditure. What I was trying to open up is the
question, under / in a
direct capitalistic society, what does the variation in legal status mean
for the definition of wage labour ?  I am sure that in primitive prison
conditions a clear profit could be made from exploiting prisoners, yet they
would not be free
labourers. The price of the commodities they produce would be set by the
market.  Here we would get value and surplus value produced (state owned or
not). It is a little way from here to the practical enslavement of workers
in company owned towns with no alternatives, subject to horrendous
discipline etc in much of capitalist  production ... eg the compounds now
surrounding Jakarta. I am concerned that we don't treat the categories used
in Marx's analysis of a mature capitalism as a formal template by which to
judge whether or not capitalism is at work.. we should be assessing the
process as it develops... how in the case of US slavery, wage labour could
not be found and a 'temporary' resolution had to be found . Capital as a
relation could not be exported as Marx underlines in his chapter on
colonialism and West's ideas. So capitalism created the slave system for
that specific and transitory period.... it was capitalistic in nature, it
was not genuinely 'feudal', it was a throw back.

I think we have come across this question of what i would call formal
definition versus historical analysis in our exchanges about the state's
production activities,  which comes out again in what you say  eg......

> 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.

Well, apart from your later comments the Public/Private partnerships in the
UK have seen the growth of privately run prisons making a profit from their
'service'... ie transfering surplus value via state tax system..
so I think you meant to say  'not structured to craeted surplus value'...
which is then clarified as such when you say......

> 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.)...

This irritates bourgeose society so that compulsion to work has always
accompanied prison regimes
> 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,
> 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
in past by other listmembers].)  [NB: obviously the costs of imprisonment/
> prisoner vary very significantly internationally.]

Obviously not Jerry.... but the aim is to create revenue to reduce the costr
of prisons. In the process independent capitalists may make profit.

> Consequently, I would explain the cost of prisons differently: they
> represent a deduction from surplus value paid for by taxation.

Generally I agree.

> 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  < ho! ho!... what is
the real alternative for most of them without money even to buy soap?)   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"
> 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).

So now... you have not yet taken the point that  prisoners are forced into
slave labour in many parts of the world, they produce commodities for those
running  the prisons (state or not)..... how is this different from other
slave regimes in societies dominated by capitalism ? We have to separate
reality from legality in our examination.

This is my question.



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