The Instigator
Praxidicai
Pro (for)
The Contender
FaustianJustice
Con (against)

Penal labor in the United States violates international human trafficking laws

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/9/2017 Category: Politics
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 847 times Debate No: 98807
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (0)

 

Praxidicai

Pro

Resolution: The use of penal labor in the United States, as it is currently practiced, violates international law with respect to trafficking in persons.

Penal labor is the practice of employing prisoners for various types of labor which they are required to perform.

Trafficking in persons "shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs" as defined in Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons [1].

The structure of this argument will be as follows:
Round 1: Acceptance only
Round 2: Opening statements and no rebuttals
Round 3: Rebuttals to round 2
Round 4: Rebuttals to round 3 and closing statements

1. https://www.unodc.org...
FaustianJustice

Con

I am confident I am stepping on a bear trap some where in here, but...

Tally Ho.
Debate Round No. 1
Praxidicai

Pro

1. The Nature of Penal Labor

In the United States, almost 900,000 US prisoners are involved in prison labor. The majority of these prisoners are required to perform labor for the upkeep of the prison itself. The remainder are contracted out to private companies to provide labor and produce products and services for extremely low wages, if they are paid at all. Federal prisons pay between $0.12 and $0.40 per hour while in Texas state prisons the minimum wage is $0.00 per hour. The United States government has denied inmates protections against involuntary servitude when the practice has been challenged in court and prisoners who have refused to work have been punished with solitary confinement and the revocation of visiting privileges [1]. It is important to note that solitary confinement has been demonstrated to produce long-term psychological damage and the United Nations has urged the United States to abandon solitary confinement or to severely curtail the practice and lessen the duration in which prisoners may be held in such confinement [2]. As it stands, it is a practice very much akin to torture and certainly constitutes coercive force [3]. In addition, solitary confinement has been used as a punishment against prisoners who have spoken out against the inadequacy of prison labor conditions [4].

The practice of penal labor can be traced to the repeal of slavery as the thirteenth amendment abolished slavery "except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted [5]" While domestic law has permitted, and even abetted, the practice of prison labor as it has been described above, the use of forced labor in immigrant detention centers raises a different issue entirely. While international law under the human trafficking provision forbids forced labor in all circumstances, even the domestic law requires that those subjected to forced labor "shall have been duly convicted" of crimes. In spite of this, the use of forced labor has been documented in immigrant detention centers [6]. Illegal immigrants are, if anything, more vulnerable than prisoners. Private corporations profiting from the forced labor of illegal immigrants in detention constitutes a flagrant violation of international human trafficking laws as the practice coerces vulnerable groups into providing forced labor from which these companies reap profits.

2. Penal Labor is Necessarily Exploitative

The system of penal labor in the United States is necessarily exploitative as it produces benefits for private corporations and state and federal prisons while denying prisoners any real benefits. Prisoners are highly vulnerable to exploitation as they are part of a socially marginalized class of people with limited abilities to protest their exploitation. Furthermore, prisoners are routinely denied basic freedoms the rest of the population enjoys and are therefore less able to protest their exploitation and are entirely unable to escape it. Under the definition provided, exploitation includes “…forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery…” Politicians have claimed a rehabilitative effect pointing to low recidivism among prisoners who have been employed by private companies in skilled labor as a justification for the continuance of the policy. This assertion is misleading as corporations seldom select unskilled prisoners for these positions and instead choose skilled prisoners [7]. For obvious reasons, skilled convicts are better able to reintegrate into society following their incarceration than their unskilled counterparts. Moreover, private companies prefer to employ long-term prisoners or even those serving life-sentences as a means to prevent turnover within production. The claim that the purpose of prison labor is to rehabilitate prisoners and provide them with marketable skills following their incarceration is not supported by the evidence which points to the conclusion that prison labor exists to enrich private corporations through the use of forced labor under conditions similar to slavery and to reduce upkeep costs.

3. An Analysis of Penal Labor in the Context of the Statute

The United States federal and state governments assume a position of power over prisoners and are therefore responsible for their well-being throughout their incarceration. In terms of the definition provided at the beginning for trafficking in persons, the United States can therefore be said to transfer prisoners through the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability to private corporation which exploit prisoners through the use of coercion to gain forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery from prisoners. Regardless of domestic loopholes enacted to preserve the practice of slavery, the United States cannot be said to be in compliance with international law regarding human trafficking by virtue of the continued use of penal labor.

4. The Purpose of Penal Labor is the Exploitation of Prisoners

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons contains language indicating that the transfer, or harboring of persons must be "...for the purpose of exploitation." in order to covered under the statute. The United States government has full knowledge that the practice occurs as they have passed legislation concerning minimum wages for prison laborers. Furthermore, the United States government is fully aware that the practice of prison labor is objectionable and forbidden under international law as they have taken legislative action to curtail the importation of products produced in China using prison labor [8]. Therefore, it cannot be said that the United States is ignorant of the legality of prison labor or of the fact that international law forbids the practice. It can also be said that the United States has a strong incentive to allow and even to promote the practice of prison labor. International economic competitors to US companies have been able to secure strong positions against them through the use of cheap labor overseas. Indeed, it is common knowledge that this very same labor has led many US firms to relocate to other countries. Cheap labor from US prisons provides an attractive method through which the United States can offer companies a viable labor source and thereby keep firms within its borders. Moreover, costs of maintaining the astonishingly high level of incarceration within the United States are incredibly high. Insofar as the United States can cut costs for incarceration by reassigning upkeep tasks to prisoners, it is in the interests of the United States to do so. It is therefore clear that the United States
purposefully transfers prisoners into the custody of private corporations with full knowledge of the treatment they receive from these corporations and the legality of this treatment in the context of international law.


Sources:
1. https://qz.com...
2. http://tbinternet.ohchr.org...;(para 20)
3. https://ccrjustice.org...
4. http://www.nytimes.com...
5. https://www.loc.gov...
6. http://www.humantraffickingsearch.net...

7. https://www.prisonlegalnews.org...;
8. http://money.cnn.com...;
FaustianJustice

Con


While it might behoove the case of Con to measure out an intro into well defined points as Pro has done, after casual, then detailed inspection of various accords and treatises, the boiler plate jargon from the various articles and organization would no doubt be boring. A lot of what would be important to those articles would also be lost. As such, Con will proceed, hopefully in a well reasoned and conversational tone that would better illustrate exactly what our penal system and its labor, as well as how it complies with human rights is evident.



In the United States, to be incarcerated in such a fashion as the resolution suggests, one would had to have had their rights to due process completed, and been convicted beyond the shadow of a doubt by a jury of peers. Additionally, the appellate process still remains as a means of regaining freedom from incarceration. Obviously, by being a convict, the State has authority and responsibility to those it houses, and just as obviously, there are logistics to this. People (convicts) will need to be transported, basic upkeep of facilities need to be performed, as well as providing the necessities of life to those contained within and ensuring the collection of people (possibly violent or dangerous) are secured. Next, let’s be clear, its prison. This is not meant to be a pleasant experience, incarceration by its nature is forced and presumed to be a deterrent for crime. It should not look like resort. This is the essence of our penal system, the means of rehabilitation as well as sufficient punishment for crimes committed against society.



When a charge of the State, those held are afforded basic rights and dignity. We have rules against cruel and unusual punishment, of which, and Con stresses this, requirement of the incarcerated to contribute to the upkeep of their place of incarceration is not. This upkeep can come in various forms, ranging from cooking and cleaning to labors outside the walls. Assuming such labors are done, the profit of such going to the institute that holds them is common sense. It would be absurd to house, feed, clothe, and maintain medically a laborer for free while enabling them access to a regular wage. The convict is beholden to society and the state; that is why jail time is commonly called “a debt to society” in the first place. Further, such labors are legally provided for in the Constitution, the drafting of 13th amendment recognized that the retention of persons can potentially cost money, and that those held should contribute in some fashion. No doubt repayment to the housing body could be included, lets again be clear: the prison system runs into the red, consistently. Our penal system houses some 2.5 million people, with average costs running from 31 to 60 thousand-ish dollars per inmate. Stating that anything for the penal system can go “for profit” in terms of labor would really just be attempting to pay for itself, given the nature of a 5 billion dollar cost overrun (1/2). Con, and I am sure a bulk of tax paying Americans would find the prison system attempting to find ways of paying for itself rather than using tax payer funds to be a "good" thing.



Lastly, with respect to human rights, according to UN’s the Manual for Human Rights Training for Prison Officials (3), page 99 states, rather clearly:



Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners


71. (1) Prison labour must not be of an afflictive nature.


(2) All prisoners under sentence shall be required to


work, subject to their physical and mental fitness as determined


by the medical officer.



In short, the UN recognizes immediately that a convict whom works is a convict that can be rehabilitated. Their “debt to society” can be better paid in full. Obviously, Con bolded for emphasis.



In the next round, Con will demonstrate the nature of the moving target Pro has set up in order to mold the resolution to fit circumstances that are not fully applicable, the intent of the cited trafficking laws, as well as the other distractions to the resolution as stated.



(1)http://www.cheatsheet.com...


(2)https://en.wikipedia.org...


(3)http://www.ohchr.org...


Debate Round No. 2
Praxidicai

Pro

My opponent has pointed out that the UN’s Manual for Human Rights Training for Prison Officials states that “all prisoners under sentence shall be required to work, subject to their physical and mental fitness as determined by the medical officer.” The United Nations has consistently affirmed the right of all people to gainful employment; however, this selective excerpt does not take into account the context of the document as a whole and, divorced from such context, this quote is highly misleading. I will now endeavor to correct the record and supply the context absent from Con’s previous statement.

Con quoted from the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and I would like to examine the rest of this section with special attention to 71 – (4), (5), (6); 72 – (2); 74 – (2); 76-(2), (3); and the accompanying implications provided by the authors of this document as an official interpretation of the document’s intent. The sections are as follows (emphasis added):

"71. (4) So far as possible the work provided shall be such as will maintain or increase the prisoners' ability to earn an honest living after release.

(5) Vocational training in useful trades shall be provided for prisoners able to profit thereby and especially for young prisoners.

(6) Within the limits compatible with proper vocational selection and with the requirements of institutional administration and discipline, the prisoners shall be able to choose the type of work they wish to perform.

72. (2) The interests of the prisoners and of their vocational training, however, must not be subordinated to the purpose of making a financial profit from an industry in the institution.

74. (2) Provision shall be made to indemnify prisoners against industrial injury, including occupational disease, on terms not less favourable than those extended by law to free workmen.

76. (2) Under the system prisoners shall be allowed to spend at least a part of their earnings on approved articles for their own use and to send a part of their earnings to their family.

(3) The system should also provide that a part of the earnings should be set aside by the administration so as to constitute a savings fund to be handed over to the prisoner on his release."

In their appraisal of relevant international jurisprudence, the authors go on to state that there is a distinction between hard labor and forced or compulsory labor as the former may be imposed by domestic courts while the latter is prohibited under international law. Additionally, the principle that prisoners must be paid a fair wage is given special attention. Furthermore, it is emphasized that prison work “should not be subordinated merely to making a profit either for the prison authorities or for a private contractor” and that “prison authorities must ensure that prisoners are not used merely as a source of cheap labour or in order to undercut the wages of local workers. In these cases, prisoners should be paid the full rate for the work they do [1].” Con has failed to account for the conditions under which the required work of able-bodied prisoners must take place. In order to clarify the issue of what constitutes hard labor and forced or compulsory labor, I shall now turn to the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (this was not ratified by the United States though they did ratify the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention of 1957 which references the 1930 definitions [2]). In the interest of space, I will quote the relevant portion which is Article 2 section 2 (c), which is as follows (emphasis added):

“2. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this Convention, the term forced or compulsory labour shall not include- (…)

  • (c) any work or service exacted from any person as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law, provided that the said work or service is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the said person is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations;”

This document, ratified, in force, and up-to-date, unequivocally states that prison labor is not considered forced or compulsory labor unless, among other things, prisoners are hired to private entities. Insofar as the United States allows private corporations to hire prisoners, the labor becomes forced or compulsory and is therefore in violation of international law [3].

I would like to note that the resolution does not say that prison labor is a violation of international law; it states that prison labor, as it is currently practiced, violates international law. Con has intimated through his arguments that I am arguing against labor of all sorts in prison. On the contrary, I am arguing that the current formulation of prison labor is exploitative and not serving the interests of the criminal justice system generally or the rehabilitative needs of prisoners specifically and in so doing, the practice constitutes trafficking in persons.

Con has argued that the requirement of the incarcerated to contribute to the upkeep of the prison is not cruel and unusual punishment. While I largely agree, I must take issue with Con’s statement that “the profit of such going to the institute that holds them is common sense.” As I demonstrated previously, international law requires that profits and the reduction of costs is of secondary concern to the interests of prisoners, particularly as it relates to providing vocational training. First and foremost, prisons are to provide prisoners with opportunities to acquire skills for gainful employment upon completion of their sentence and the ability to earn a fair wage which can be used to contribute to their families outside of prison and as a savings fund to be made available to them upon release. Whether or not using prisoners as free or nearly free labor makes some sort of budgetary sense is frankly immaterial to the question at hand. Furthermore, if the government truly cared about reducing incarceration costs, they would incarcerate fewer people. Incarceration should be a punishment of last resort. Instead, the United States treats incarceration as a punishment of first preference as demonstrated by the fact that the United States incarcerates more people by far than any other nation [4]. That this decision leads to an expensive prison system does not negate the human rights of prisoners to be free from exploitation.

My opponent argued that the 13th Amendment recognized the need for prisoners to contribute to their upkeep and provides a legal basis. I would like to remind Con that the resolution clearly states that “The use of penal labor in the United States, as it is currently practiced, violates international law…” (emphasis added). Accordingly, we are examining whether the practice is justified in the context of international law and whether domestic laws adequately provide the protections that are required under international law. Con states “…I am sure a bulk of tax paying Americans would find the prison system attempting to find ways of paying for itself rather than using tax payer funds to be a “good” thing.” To this statement, I argue that popular opinion is not a good indicator of morality, legality, or truth. During WWII, the United States incarcerated all individuals of Japanese origin or descent in internment camps in stark violation of their rights to due process and from indefinite detention. This action had popular support but was clearly immoral and unconstitutional [5]. That the majority of American taxpayers would be willing to allow prisoners’ human rights to be stripped from them through exploitation out of the self-interested desire to avoid paying for an unnecessarily expensive legal system provides paltry justification for doing so.

Sources:

1. https://www.un.org...
2. http://www.ilo.org...
3. http://www.ilo.org...
4. http://www.nytimes.com...
5. http://www.ihr.org...;

FaustianJustice

Con

So, since Pro has made use of a structured nature, for my rebuttals, sadly, I must break from my conversational tone and get a bit more oriented to how Pro has structured their arguments.

1. The Nature of Penal Labor

In this section, Pro brings to light many facts and figures that Con has no need to dispute, though brings to question the relevance of exactly how trafficking and penal labor meet. Pro mentions how many prisoners labor, presumably for profit, however the details from the cited materials get quite nebulous. Case in point: “The majority of these prisoners are required to perform labor for the upkeep of the prison itself. The remainder are contracted out to private companies to provide labor and produce products and services for extremely low wages, if they are paid at all. Federal prisons pay between $0.12 and $0.40 per hour while in Texas state prisons the minimum wage is $0.00 per hour.” Does this mean the Federal/State inmates are paid that to upkeep the prison? Or does it mean that they are paid (or not paid) on the ‘contracted out’ portion of the statement? Is this prison pool of contracted laborers a ‘volunteer’ basis? The article cited, while it might be factually accurate about the numbers makes no differentiation on the status of the inmates, only that money is being made from them. Con must suggest that the inmates being contracted out volunteered for work outside the scope of prison (or for-state labor), and that the posits put by Pro simply are devoid of relationship to make a case for trafficking.

On the matter of solitary confinement and revocation of privileges, should an inmate choose to not work, and instead “strike” in some form or fashion, I would challenge Pro to find appropriate punishment that does not run afoul of further rights violations. Con suggests that there are no further leverages short of additional prison time (counterproductive by inception…) to encourage an inmate to contribute to their upkeep.

Lastly, illegal immigrants. Admittedly, this is a dicey situation, in as much as their very presence is what makes them subject to arrest: they shouldn’t be here. Detaining illegal immigrants is akin to county lock up until trial. Again, Con suggests that there is no viable alternative but for those being detained to work in order to upkeep their facility. You cannot deport these detainees; they have not been convicted. You cannot release these detainees scot free; their presence in country is exactly what got them locked up in the first place, you would just be releasing them to break the law some more, quite literally. The only options on the table are for the accused to self deport (HA!), or remain in custody to await trial, or possibly ‘bond out’ until trial. There are surprisingly a lot of options available to illegal immigrants once caught by ICE, and its safe to say that if you are being retained for more than 48 hours, much like their US counterparts, you have been seen as a risk for various reasons (1). In any case, this all cost money from various parties. Pro’s citation states: “The lawsuit focuses on the company's "voluntary work program" in which detainees did various tasks around the center for $1 per day.”. The detainees were asked to upkeep their facility, and some of the complaints from those detained at such a facility very well might have only been staying 48 hours there. This is a very, very murky circumstance (illegal alien detention), and our readers need to remember the goal of such institutions are to eventually get said illegal immigrant OUT of the US.

2. Penal Labor is Necessarily Exploitative

The system of penal labor in the United States is necessarily exploitative as it produces benefits for private corporations and state and federal prisons while denying prisoners any real benefits.”
Con would find the funding of the prison system on the labors of those legally held within it to be a benefit for everyone, prisoners included. We are still awaiting direct evidence of forced labor for a private corporation. At this given juncture, we have a collection of inmates stating that they feel that the compensation being provided is unfair.


Regarding point 3, Con appreciates this, and finds this to be a reiteration of sorts, and will be reviewed in the conclusion.

4. The Purpose of Penal Labor is the Exploitation of Prisoners

Moreover, costs of maintaining the astonishingly high level of incarceration within the United States are incredibly high. Insofar as the United States can cut costs for incarceration by reassigning upkeep tasks to prisoners, it is in the interests of the United States to do so.” Con addressed this in the introduction, and agrees, but for different reasons. Con fully believes that the upkeep of prisoners by prisoners in in the best interests of the United States, and by extension, its inmate population and tax payer. The logic is clear: The prisoners are maintained by their own labors. The tax burden is reduced to the rest of the public. Yes, this is in the United States’ best interest as tax revenue can instead be devoted to other productive ends.

Now, at this point in the debate, we have questions on the table that have vague allusion, but get no definitive answer: how are those selected for work beyond upkeep of the facilities chosen? Pro states its coercion to various end, but such from their sources has been only claimed. What constitutes “profit” for a prison system that by nature runs in the red each fiscal year? Con would argue that any monies being recouped from the labor of prisoners that goes back to the budget of the prison itself cannot reasonably called “profit” given the nature of the cited deficits. Trafficking laws and violations depend on these questions getting answered, as a voluntary work force negates a vast majority of this discussion, and if we determine that the upkeep of a prison being supplied by the prisoners is appropriate, their ‘exploitation’ to make basic ends meet simply cannot realistically be seen as a human rights violation by the various laws and definitions we have adopted for the debate.

(1) http://www.nolo.com...

In the next round Con will go on to refute the most recent inapplicable objections, and conclude.
Debate Round No. 3
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Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by FaustianJustice 1 year ago
FaustianJustice
Dang it...
Posted by Praxidicai 1 year ago
Praxidicai
I think it could actually be more ambiguous than it first appears as I've so far not found a single precedent for bringing charges against a government under this law. I agree, the definition is fairly damning, which is probably why no one's accepted. I might amend it to debate whether the United States could be prosecuted under this statute which is far from clear.
Posted by Blade-of-Truth 1 year ago
Blade-of-Truth
Ohhh, this is a good topic!! Penal labor has been allowed under national/constitutional law but in terms of international law, specifically human trafficking laws... I don't know. The definition given by the U.N. is pretty damning though for anyone in the Con position.

I'll be following this one with pleasant anticipation.
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