Do SB1070 backers have a different kind of guest worker program in mind?

21 Jun 2010 11:22 am
Posted by: Donna

Yesterday’s Republic Valley section reported that “cash-strapped” cities are using 50 cent an hour prison labor as a cost savings measure.

Douglas sits on the Mexican border, about 50 miles west of New Mexico. Its economy struggled after the smelter closed in the late 1980s. City leaders had less revenue to work with.

Michael Ortega saw the potential to fill that void in 1994.

Ortega, who was Douglas’ public-works director at the time, said the relationship began with selling the program to residents who might have been concerned about inmates in orange jumpsuits doing maintenance at city parks and easing concerns of employees who feared the cheap labor pool would take their jobs.

“There were discussions amongst staff and employees, and we told them the reality is this: They’re not taking your job,” Ortega said. “They’re helping you accomplish your job so I don’t have to hire more staff, because I can’t afford it.”

Ponder that. When revenue to your municipality dries up because a plant closes, taking well-paying jobs with it, the obvious answer is to hire a bunch of people for 50 cents an hour. Boy, that’ll sure stimulate the economy and bring those tax revenues back!

It’s not there isn’t a lot to be said for job training programs for inmates. It’s important to teach skills to and instill self-confidence in offenders so they can be productive members of society when they get out. What makes me uneasy is when government and corporations view prisoners as a cheap, captive workforce. Highly educated and skilled workers won’t be threatened by a 50 cent an hour captive and mostly uneducated labor force but low skilled workers will. This includes, ironically, the very inmates who upon their release will find it difficult to secure even minimum wage employment. It does not portend a foreseeable end to the disastrous War on Drugs either.

As for immigration reform with a path to legalization? Fuhgeddaboudit if Pearce and his ilk have their way. Someone sent me a link to this In These Times article and it all clicked into place.

An In These Times investigation shows that the bill’s promoters are as equally dedicated to border politics as they are to promoting the fortunes of private prison companies, like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, which stand to reap substantial profits as more undocumented residents end up in jail.

Are we surprised at all by this?

8 Comments

  1. Comment by Truth08 on June 21, 2010 12:18 pm

    Douglas is not the only town using prison labor to get cheap work done.

    Winkleman, a small town just south of Globe also uses them frequently, and has for years.Not to mention, the states own Highway Dept, along the I-10, for clean up duties.

    Though your point was very well made:
    >>>” the very inmates who upon their release will find it difficult to secure even minimum wage employment. It does not portend a foreseeable end to the disastrous War on Drugs either.”

    Not that they would work for minimum wage, if they see an easier alternative?? This is why we do have career criminals, in the first place.

    Regards,
    Truth08

  2. Comment by BruceJ on June 21, 2010 3:24 pm

    “Ponder that. When revenue to your municipality dries up because a plant closes, taking well-paying jobs with it, the obvious answer is to hire a bunch of people for 50 cents an hour. ”

    Paying a bunch of people 50 cents an hour who can’t even spend it in Douglas.

    Have no doubt, there IS a class war going in in the United States, and the folks with the money are winning it.

    They’re working on gutting Social Security, wiping out our pensions, destroying unions, and not so gradually returning us all to serfdom.

    And the conservative yahoos gleefully participate in their own destruction.

    Very very pessimistic today.

  3. Comment by BruceJ on June 21, 2010 3:37 pm

    ugh, me forget end tag. sorry!

  4. Comment by Neil Rosekrans on June 21, 2010 3:56 pm

    I appreciate your perspective on this but a lean government that doesn’t have to saturate its tax base with higher fees and taxes has its advantages too!

  5. Comment by Donna on June 21, 2010 8:48 pm

    But Neil, prison labor doesn’t necessarily reduce the cost of government. The “cost avoidance” realized by a city using inmates doesn’t take into account the revenue and economic opportunity lost when jobs that pay decent wages to locals are replaced with dirt cheap prison workers. It also doesn’t take into account the total cost of security, housing, feeding, and providing health care to those inmates, much of which is borne by state taxpayers.

    Again, I’m not full stop opposed to putting inmates to work but when we live in a country with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners I’m more than a little leery of seeing them as the go-to low skilled labor force. Especially when the private prison industry is licking its chops over the latest spate of immigration laws.

  6. Comment by BruceJ on June 21, 2010 9:17 pm

    A government that cannot pick up the trash or maintain streets is only “lean” in the sense that starving Somali children are “lean”.

  7. Comment by Neil Rosekrans on June 22, 2010 9:26 am

    Two points:

    1. The costs you mention (security, housng, feeding, and providing health care) are sunk costs that we’d be paying regardless of whether or not the city employed their labor.

    2. Government jobs are a positive byproduct of providing essential municipal services. We shouldn’t look for government to be our choice employer of decent jobs. The smaller and more efficient we can make government, the better prospects we’ll have for good private sector jobs.

  8. Comment by Appleblossom on June 28, 2010 4:19 pm

    BruceJ, your point is also driven home by the sudden noise regarding public employee benefits and pensions.

    We need a resurgence of Tax Wealth Not Poverty.

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