The Instigator
debatergorl
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
Mr.Grace
Pro (for)
Winning
7 Points

Large companies should be allowed to hire prisoners for labor work.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
Mr.Grace
Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 8/5/2014 Category: Economics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,710 times Debate No: 59966
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (13)
Votes (1)

 

debatergorl

Con

America imprisons more people than any other country in the world. The Prison Industrial Complex is a major institution in the US and quite a controversial one if I might add. There are many debatable elements of this industry, but I would like to focus on one in particular:

Should large companies be allowed to hire prisoners for labor work?

As of now, large businesses (such as Walmart, BP, Macy's, etc) are hiring prisoners to do labor jobs. Jobs include basic needs like construction and packaging. This comes with poor working conditions, little pay (as low as 23 cents per hour), and hard work. Companies are just taking advantage of these prisoners to only boost their own profits, and they fail to of long term consequences it might have on others.I personally believe that this hiring of prisoners is wrongful action and should be banned for three major reasons:

(1) Working conditions such as these are inhumane, no matter the person working in them. Workplaces are giving off harmful fumes and can be at set at unhealthy temperatures. Some of the work is considered "slavery" of today. Even if these workers are prisoners, they don't deserve to be put in this treacherous conditions that could lead them to life long health issues. Some of these prisoners are even there for minor crimes. They may have robbed one store, or committed one small crime, yet their lives and health could be in danger. We abolished slavery years ago, so let's not move backwards. We don't want our country to be known for this inhumane treatment.

(2) Prison time is a time to reflect, not a time to work. Part of the idea of prison is putting criminals in isolation, so they can reflect on their crimes and (hopefully) become better, moral people. Many people commit crimes because they are already in low paying but hard working jobs, and they need a way to feed themselves or get their hands on a winter coat. If they are forced into labor, they are basically doing exactly what they did before committing the crime. They would not be reflecting at all, and they wouldn't have as much off an opportunity to become morally better people.

(3) As much as this may be helping businesses, it is hurting our economy. These prisoners are prisoners, so why are they getting paid in prison? As terrible as the conditions might be, there are innocent, jobless people out in the country that would probably kill for even a job like that. Did you know that prisoners even have some medical insurance? So there are people, innocent people, in the US that are living on the streets, jobless, while the people that have committed crimes are earning money and being taken care of medically. In a sense, this is promoting crime to those homeless people. They could actually have a place to sleep inside in the prison, have a job to earn some money (as little as it may be), and have medical insurance. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel unsafe in our country to know that we could be promoting crime in this way.

To conclude, the conditions that these prisoners must work in are unsafe, overshadowing the true purpose of prison, and taking away jobs that could be done by the large population of the US that is unemployed. The Prison Industrial Complex is treating prisoners unfairly and hurting our economy more than we might think.

Sources: http://ellabakercenter.org... http://www.huffingtonpost.com...
Mr.Grace

Pro

My opponent, to be kind, is over-exaggerating the extent of private, industrial employment within the prison system. According to available sources, such employment accounts for approximately 6,000 prisoners nationwide, representing less than 1% of the total prison population (https://econ.duke.edu...). The overwhelming portion of the "Prison Industrial Complex" belongs to large corporations and government agencies that build, supply, feed, or house the nation's 2.3 million prison population. Going after a minuscule portion of that market seems to be, in my opinion, small potatoes. Part of this may be due to Debatergorl's lack of understanding of the US Prison system.

The vast majority of prisoners are required to work for little or no pay within their prison-- laundry, cooks, maintenance, etc. State run prisons make use of prison labor to recoup the cost of incarceration, to pay retribution to the victims of the prisoner, or to pay child support for the prisoner's children. Supreme Court rulings have found this to be constitutional as prisoners are not afforded protection under the Federal Labor Standards Act (the law that created the Federal Minimum Wage). However, this does not mean that prisoners aren't afforded other civil rights protections. It is still a violation of the law to force a prisoner to work in unsafe working conditions. The wage figures Debatergorl uses ("as low as 23 cents per hour") refer to those wages paid by government agencies, or outsourced private prison facilities. "UNICOR, " also known as Federal Prison Industries, is an organization that runs prison work programs for the Federal Prison System and is often cited by prisoner-rights advocates as a major violator of prisoners rights, as it also pays below minimum wage. But it too is a GOVERNMENT entity--- not the private corporation to which Debatergorl holds angst. (http://www.unicor.gov...)

The large private companies that have recently made use of prison labor do so under the heavy regulation of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, an office of the US Dept. of Justice. Under the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program, private corporations may use prison labor but must pay "prevailing wages" or the Federal Minimum Wage, which ever is higher, to their prison employees. (https://www.ncjrs.gov...)

Also known as "PIE," the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program was developed in 1979 as a means to give prisoners marketable skills that will help them find employment after their incarceration. Previously, Federal laws prohibited the sale of prisoner-made goods in excess of $10,000 across state lines. Such restrictions made it impossible for large companies to invest in job training programs for prisoners. The PIE program sought to mitigate those restrictions while maintaining government control and regulation. Relatively few corporations participate in it, due to public outcry.... usually instigated by Labor Unions who see prison labor as a threat to their jobs. It is unfortunate that people erroneously criticize corporate participants, because the program actually works! Reputable and unbiased research has shown that prisoners that go through the program find employment easier, with higher wages, and lower recidivism rates (the percentage of convicts who return to prison).
source: https://econ.duke.edu...

Likewise, your argument about how these programs are "hurting the economy" holds no water. The use of prison labor for private industry represents such a minuscule portion of the job market and has very little effect on overall employment. In fact, the program places restrictions that require companies to demonstrate that prisoners are not taking jobs away from law-abiding citizens (http://www.forbes.com...) Given these facts, I would argue that it improves the economy by helping otherwise unemployed convicts find jobs, while reducing the overall tax burden for incarceration.

Prisoners don't need "time to reflect." They need skills that will enable them to find gainful employment and to break the cycle of criminal activity. Perhaps solitary confinement would give prisoners "isolation," but such in not the situation in the vast majority of cases. Prisoners reflect with other prisoners--- discussing their crimes, forming prison alliances, and learning new illegal ways of providing for themselves after jail. The PIE programs offer them an alternative. It seems to me that the critics of the program are more concerned about someone making money off of prison labor, and less concerned about the welfare of the prisoner
Debate Round No. 1
debatergorl

Con

I will first proceed to rebut against my opponent's wise arguments before stating my final words.

"My opponent, to be kind, is over-exaggerating the extent of private, industrial employment within the prison system. According to available sources, such employment accounts for approximately 6,000 prisoners nationwide, representing less than 1% of the total prison population (https://econ.duke.edu......). The overwhelming portion of the "Prison Industrial Complex" belongs to large corporations and government agencies that build, supply, feed, or house the nation's 2.3 million prison population. Going after a minuscule portion of that market seems to be, in my opinion, small potatoes."

I do not appreciate when people talk about minorities as if they are unimportant. Every life on this planet (no matter how criminal the life may be) deserves humane working conditions. Six-thousand people is six-thousand too many working in these unsanitary conditions. Cases have been shown where chemicals such as arson, mercury, and lead intoxicated the air of the workplaces, and the prisoners had no gear to protect themselves (http://www.globalresearch.ca...). I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want anyone in those places without protection.

"The vast majority of prisoners are required to work for little or no pay within their prison-- laundry, cooks, maintenance, etc. State run prisons make use of prison labor to recoup the cost of incarceration, to pay retribution to the victims of the prisoner, or to pay child support for the prisoner's children."

Does it not bug you that there are homeless people out on the streets that have no job and can't support their children? I fully respect the fact that we need to take care of our prisoners, but if we plan to pay them for needs such as child support, we need to first take priority in taking care of our innocent citizens.

""UNICOR, " also known as Federal Prison Industries, is an organization that runs prison work programs for the Federal Prison System and is often cited by prisoner-rights advocates as a major violator of prisoners rights, as it also pays below minimum wage. But it too is a GOVERNMENT entity--- not the private corporation to which Debatergorl holds angst."

While UNICOR is the main culprit of these poor working conditions, there are other private corporations that do make use of prison labor with poor conditions (such as Walmart, BP, Macy's, etc). In the case of the BP oil spill, prison labor was used (exposing these prisoners to toxic conditions with little pay) until nearby residents complained of the unfair treatment. (http://www.thenation.com...#) In any case, when I stated "large companies" in the prompt, that meant all companies (including those that are government run, such as UNICOR). As you stated, their treatment is illegal, but we as a nation are not stopping them. Part of the reason we are "allowing these actions" is because we are doing nothing to tighten our grip on these corporations.

"The large private companies that have recently made use of prison labor do so under the heavy regulation of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, an office of the US Dept. of Justice. Under the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program, private corporations may use prison labor but must pay "prevailing wages" or the Federal Minimum Wage, which ever is higher, to their prison employees."

These regulations were implemented in 2001, yet all of my previous sources have been filed from 2011-2013. We are apparently not tightening the grip enough.

"Given these facts, I would argue that it improves the economy by helping otherwise unemployed convicts find jobs, while reducing the overall tax burden for incarceration."

But who is it helping? The companies. The companies are only getting richer and richer by paying these prisoners next to nothing when they could be providing jobs like these (with a higher pay) to people in need of them.

"Also known as "PIE," the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program was developed in 1979 as a means to give prisoners marketable skills that will help them find employment after their incarceration." "They need skills that will enable them to find gainful employment and to break the cycle of criminal activity."

I think it is good that they are helping prepare these people to go back to normal lives with normal jobs, but again- we are not helping the innocent civilians under the poverty line prepare for finding jobs because they cannot afford college education. We need to set priorities. If we are going to help the prisoners, we must first help the innocent people.

Remember, we want our country to be known for greatness, and not for putting people inhumane conditions or setting the priority of prisoners over our innocent citizens. By tightening the grip, we only earn the wrong image. Thank you.
Mr.Grace

Pro

My worthy opponent makes some valid points to which I hope to rebut.

"I do not appreciate when people talk about minorities as if they are unimportant. Every life on this planet (no matter how criminal the life may be) deserves humane working conditions."

Every life is indeed important. I didn't intend otherwise; however, it is important to examine this topic within its proper context. The daily life of a prisoner is not easy. Being surrounded by murders, rapists, and gang members is by anyone's definition a "hazardous environment;" being caged in a 10X10 cell is the very definition "enslavement." These are the working conditions inherent in being incarcerated. There is absolutely no legal protection for prisoners against this. And although you may like to single out corporations for similar treatment, the fact is that prisoners have MORE rights when their work is subcontracted out to a private employer.

Note in the one instance you referenced about the BP oil spill, the prison labor was indeed given protection under OSHA regulations: "Workers wear protective chin-to-boot coveralls (made out of high-density polyethylene and manufactured by Dupont), taped to steel-toed boots covered in yellow plastic. They work twenty minutes on, forty minutes off, as per Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety rules." (1)

Your claim that Walmart uses prison labor is a stretch. Actually Walmart simply sells damaged products to a company that uses prison labor to refurbish and resell the items: "The giant retailer sells this merchandise to liquidators, who scrub the products of any Wal-Mart serial numbers, UPC bar codes" (2). The attack on Walmart is just another example of how this prison issue is simply a means for Labor Unions to attack any form of capitalism that doesn't directly benefit themselves.

You continued:" In any case, when I stated "large companies" in the prompt, that meant all companies (including those that are government run, such as UNICOR)."

You can't really include government owned corporations in your argument as this would include the whole Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Defense, and every State-run Prison Facility--- all of which "profit" from prison labor. Such an argument would require a proposal that there be NO prisons. It is a fact that if we are to have prisons they must be financed by someone-- be it a government or private business. My argument would be that there are more protections for prisoners, as well as more benefits, when they are working for a private business. As nearly everyone of your links expose, if a prisoner feels that he has worked in an "unsafe" working condition, they can sue the company. (Example:3). It is easier to win a judgment from a government court against a private company, than it is for the same court to rule against another government department.

As I stated in my above argument, there ARE protections for prison laborers. Under the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program prisoners receive higher pay, better work environments, and learn skills that may help them find a job when they are released. There is even a provision that requires companies to ensure that the work doesn't take away jobs from the community: "The agency must respond to a broad statutory mandate to insure that PIECP
does not impair or displace private sector workers and is not applied in skills in which
there is a surplus of available gainful labor" (4) Often the products they produce compete with imports, not American products.

Finally, you stated: " The companies. The companies are only getting richer and richer by paying these prisoners next to nothing when they could be providing jobs like these (with a higher pay) to people in need of them."
According to UNICOR's financial statements, they LOST money: $4.2million in 2013, $28million in 2012, $1.8million in 2011, and $56million in 2010; for a total loss of over $100million in 4 years (5). The claim that corporations are making "more and more money," is more anti-capitalism hyperbole than reality. The PIE Program is a community service that pays for itself, not a profit generating enterprise. As my previous link on the study conducted by Duke University proved, the program works.

Thank you

1. http://www.thenation.com...
2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com...
3. http://static.mgnetwork.com...
4. http://www.nationalcia.org...
5. http://www.unicor.gov...
Debate Round No. 2
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by cheyennebodie 2 years ago
cheyennebodie
I think that some prisoners are already out on work releaase. If their crimes are such that they will have a high percentage return rate, then yes. And why not any company that will hire them, big and small.Then it would be a lot easier to return to civilian life.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago
whiteflame
RFD:

I'll go through the debate using the three major contentions from Con as the outline.

1) Working Conditions

I think the main thing that works for Pro here is a comparison of harms. He points out that nothing is perfect in either Pro's or Con's world, but that at the very least, there are protections and earnings being made in Pro's that are absent in Con's. Unsafe working conditions and "slavery" are essentially non-unique, but are reduced in a world where one can work for private corporations with regulations (even if some are occasionally ignored) and even for public companies, which have to at least pay them something. Pro's argument that government-owned companies are too akin to other government agencies to include is a little dodgy, but it's not a bad point, and I think it at least brings into question whether UNICOR can be included in the harms being solved for, which isn't good for Con, since this is where current workers are going to be going in the absence of private companies.

There are some further problems with this that weren't discussed, specifically I find it rather odd that Con is so concerned with their safety and yet not with their livelihood or those of their families. This contention seems to be at odds with the third in many ways, though that argument doesn't come up, so it doesn't play into this decision.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago
whiteflame
Much of Con's arguments focused on faults in the current system, but many of these could have had an easy response: regulate it, don't erase it. Con says multiple times that regulations have been ineffective, but that doesn't mean that adding further regulations would be similarly impotent. If Pro had chosen to take this up as his advocacy, he could easily have dismissed contention 1 in the process. The other two contentions really aren't affected too heavily, and in fact their impact on the broader economy would likely be reduced by lessened hiring practices.

2) A time to reflect

Honestly, this is just a poorly explained position in the first place. I find that Pro's rebuttals " that prisoners are in anything but isolation currently and that "reflection" does nothing to help them reintegrate after they're out " to be pretty powerful and I lack direct response to either of those issues. If the issue here is that their situation effectively isn't changing, I don't see that as a reasonable interpretation of this circumstance, which is still markedly different from a laborer choosing their own line of work. I think much of this point is about incentives to commit crimes, but it's never warranted fully, and I find the links to that impact to be tenuous at best.
Posted by whiteflame 2 years ago
whiteflame
3) Hurting the economy

There simply isn't a lot of work being put into this. Pro put out some really good responses that don't any counter rebuttal, specifically that the number of people involved is only about 6,000 and therefore not large enough to make a huge dent in the job market, that the jobs being taken are complementary and therefore not being taken from individuals actively searching for work, and that they are specifically being created for this program and are thus not taken from others. Beyond that, the response that we need to prioritize innocent individuals not in the prison system is never warranted. If anything, I find Pro's impact to helping criminals stronger, since they would otherwise have high recidivism rates and do great harm through their following acts. So I see heavy mitigation and even a solid turn here, none of which get any direct response.

Conclusion:

Con's argumentation failed to showcase a significant harm that outstripped the benefits of these programs. The majority of Con's counter rebuttal focuses on aspects of Pro's arguments that really played no huge role in the debate. There were a lot of inherent assumptions in his arguments that were never supported, and the remainder of his arguments, while bringing up some good points, seemed to leave too much of Pro's arguments behind to be fully effective. Pro successfully established that there were substantial benefits to the program that shouldn't be monkeyed with. Ergo, I vote Pro.
Posted by debatergorl 2 years ago
debatergorl
Thanks! You did very well too, and I had a lot of fun. :)
Posted by Mr.Grace 2 years ago
Mr.Grace
I enjoyed the debate Gorl, and thought you did a good job of it!
Posted by Aerogant 2 years ago
Aerogant
Yes, let us release the hounds into a world of pups to do our bidding! Excellent notion, sir!
Posted by debatergorl 2 years ago
debatergorl
While it may seem unlikely, @schachdame, there is another side to this argument. The same people that argue against minimum wage argue for this. I definitely see where the other side comes from. I was just hoping to get a little debate practice in. :)
Posted by schachdame 2 years ago
schachdame
I sometimes get the strong feeling, that the US is making it's own problems worse.

Argument 3 for example heavily relies on the lack of a proper health system and un-employment-support. If people don't get the feeling that others are morally worse than them and still have a better life, they are much more willing to help these people (back into society).

And Argument 1 relates to a lack of proper standards for working conditions and workplace-safety.

This really is a patriotic debate. Already because it only applies to the US and gives no proper option for others to participate and argue on an international sacle.
And what kind of argument is it to say, that slavery would lower the US reputation? It is against human rights, and that is and should always be the only argument that needs to be said against slavery in this context. I am truly afraid of someone, who would feel that something is justified just because it's "good for America".
Posted by TheDebateMaster1 2 years ago
TheDebateMaster1
I would agree with pro for this
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 2 years ago
whiteflame
debatergorlMr.Grace
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