Map #11. The Southernization of America: State rates of incarceration, with higher levels in the Deep South.
- Vox‘s German Lopez reports that the United States’ prison population leads the world, both in terms of percents and actual numbers. We make up just four percent of the World’s population, but account for a whopping 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. And as you can see in the map above, the South throws more people in jail than anyone else. The Center for American Progress adds that our so-called “War on Drugs” is mostly waged on communities of color, and that our prison population ballooned by 700 percent between 1970 and 2005. Furthermore, our nation’s prisoners are disproportionately people of color.
“While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.”
The Old South may have lost their slave labor force when we passed the 13th Amendment, but now they’ve got the next best thing: Prison labor! Alas, even our nation’s overcrowded prisions and failed war on drugs can be attributed to the Southernization of America. Jaron Browne explains how the U.S. prison system started in the South as a way to re-enslave blacks in Reimagine:
In 1865, the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery for all people except those convicted of a crime and opened the door for mass criminalization. Prisons were built in the South as part of the backlash to Black Reconstruction and as a mechanism to re-enslave Black workers. In the late 19th-century South, an extensive prison system was developed in the interest of maintaining the racial and economic relationship of slavery.
That’s right. And Rania Khalek writes in Alternet about how big corporations exploit cheap prison labor for as little as 25 cents per hour, while our tax dollars pay for it all.
In the eyes of the corporation, inmate labor is a brilliant strategy in the eternal quest to maximize profit. By dipping into the prison labor pool, companies have their pick of workers who are not only cheap but easily controlled. Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages. They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises. Inmates work full-time and are never late or absent because of family problems.
Oh, and these vile companies even get a $2,400 per inmate tax break for employing them at way under minimum wage. Meanwhile, Arizona’s much-hated Sheriff Joe Arpaio has brought back the chain gang. No wonder these cheap, sleazy companies won’t pay living wages any more. Welcome to the Southernization of America, and all-low-wages-all-the-time.
Continues on next page: Map #12. The Southernization of America: State Minimum Wages in 2015.