View Full Version : Should prisoners make military equipment?

Rising Sun*
06-01-2010, 07:42 AM
Inmate labor used to make recalled helmets

By Kent Mallett - The (Newark, Ohio) Advocate
Thursday May 27, 2010

HEBRON, Ohio — The combat helmets made by Hebron-based ArmorSource and recalled by the Army earlier this month were made by a Texas subcontractor that uses federal inmates to do its work.

The Army and ArmorSource confirmed to The Advocate that UNICOR, also called Federal Prison Industries, manufactured all of the 102,000 helmets for the ArmorSource contract with the Army.

The helmets, produced between August 2007 and November 2009, were manufactured at UNICOR’s facility in Beaumont, Texas, where a federal prison is located.

The recall of 44,000 ArmorSource helmets, announced May 14, followed Army testing of the helmets’ ability to withstand gunshots. The recall also came after the Army learned of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into ArmorSource.

“A couple weeks before the Department of Justice alert, we were already noticing some issues with ArmorSource helmets,” Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said.

The first tests came during development of the Enhanced Combat Helmet, using all four helmet manufacturers. Then came random testing of four ArmorSource lots, revealing problems surviving the multiple shots, Cummings said.

“As far as my knowledge, all the other helmets passed the additional tests,” Cummings said.

The Army will not release the results of such tests, however, he said.

As of Tuesday, the Army had collected 6,246 helmets, 377 of which were in use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army hopes to replace all the ArmorSource helmets by June 21.

Paul Garcia, ArmorSource spokesman, said the helmets passed all of the company’s standards, the Army’s tests and independent testing. The subsequent tests were beyond the scope of the contract specifications, he said.

“We have been 100-percent compliant with the contract and exceeded performance expectations,” Garcia said.

A Pennsylvania congressman who represents a district that includes ArmorSource competitor Gentex Corp. criticized the use of inmates to manufacture Army helmets on his Congressional website.

“Federal Prison Industries plays an important role in putting inmates to work,” Democratic Rep. Christopher Carney wrote. “But our military men and women deserve the best-made equipment, and this recall further demonstrates the pitfalls of trusting prisoners with the lives of our soldiers and Marines.”

Carney stated on his website that UNICOR is the subject of a Department of Justice investigation of the company’s helmet production.

Larry Dixon, co-owner of ArmorSource, said UNICOR has manufactured helmets for 20 years and produced effective products, Dixon said. ArmorSource employees and a government representative provided oversight at the Texas facility, he said.

“The inmates, they’re some of the best workers I’ve seen,” Dixon said. “They’re focused, show up for work on time and are motivated. We’ve seen nothing but good work.”

CNN reported Thursday that Federal Prison Industries, which had contracts to produce 600,000 helmets for the Army and 100,000 lightweight helmets to the Marine Corps, has stopped all helmet manufacturing.

Federal Prison Industries also agreed to waive preferential status that gives it right of first refusal on U.S. government contracts, CNN reported. http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/05/gns_army_helmet_recall_labor_052710/

I do like the comment that prisoners show up for work on time. As if they have a choice.

Maybe it's being a bit unfair to prisoners to suggest that they might not make military helmets very well, even if the recall shows they don't.

But for an inspired bit of commercial lunancy the prison industries also make vests and body armour for law enforcement. http://www.unicor.gov/shopping/viewCat_m.asp?idCategory=542&iStore=CTG

Surely there couldn't be a prisoner with a gripe against cops who in making a cop's body armour might fancy the idea of not making it very well. Or just a prisoner who resents being forced to work and who doesn't work very well? Let alone a prisoner who takes out his resentment at being imprisoned by sabotaging the military equipment he, or she, is making.

After all, most convict laborers are employed by state-owned "prison industries" such as the California Department of Corrections Prison Industries Authority (PIA) or the Federal Government's Unicor, which employs about 20,000 inmates. Impressive numbers, and one would be excused for thinking that someone must be making money hand over fist. However Unicor—like the many parallel ventures owned by the states—is an economic basket case that would shortly collapse if ever forced to compete with the private sector.

Unicor products provided to the Department of Defense, on average, cost 13 percent more than the same goods supplied by private firms. U.S. Navy officials say that, compared to the open market, Unicor's "product is inferior, costs more and takes longer to procure." The federal prison monopoly delivers 42 percent of its orders late, compared to an industry-wide average delinquency rate of only 6 percent. A 1993 government report found that Unicor wire sold to the military failed at nearly twice the rate of the military's next worst supplier.

"The stuff was poor quality," said Derek Vander Schaaf, the Pentagon's Deputy Inspector General, adding: "If you can't compete at 50 cents an hour for labor, guys, come on."

Most state owned prison industry authorities (PIAs) are just as bad: twenty-five percent of them reported net losses in 1994. But even this unflattering number is optimistically distorted, because many PIAs that boast profits in their annual reports fail to disclose the massive subsidies they receive. For example, California's PIA claims to be in the black, but state auditors tell a different story: In 1998 the PIA employed 7,000 of the state's 155,000 prisoners in everything from dairy farming to computer refurbishing, and operated with the usual pampering of guaranteed markets and obscenely low wages. But, like Unicor, the PIA was unable even to meet its costs. Despite posting a "profit" the PIA is on life support, receiving "operating subsidies" and capital outlay funding from the state worth more than $90 million.

The same story can be found in state after state. Why the inefficiency? In part because convicts resent being used as virtual slaves and thus drag their feet, steal supplies, and commit sabotage nonstop. One former federal inmate told me that his "cellie" ended each workday at a Unicor shop with a celebratory calculation of how much equipment and material he had destroyed, thrown or stolen. As the former prisoner put it, "It was all waste, all the time." http://www.covertaction.org/content/view/59/75/

If prison industries are so bad, why do they continue? I do hope the following isn't true.

Prison Labor

An American worker who once upon a time made $8/hour, loses his job when the company relocates to Thailand where workers are paid only $2/day. Unemployed, and alienated from a society indifferent to his needs, he becomes involved in the drug economy or some other outlawed means of survival. He is arrested, put in prison, and put to work. His new salary: 22 cents/hour.

From worker to unemployed to criminal to convict laborer, the cycle has come full circle. And the only victor is big business.

For private business, prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No unemployment insurance or workers' compensation to pay. No language problem, as in a foreign country. New leviathan prisons are being built with thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria's Secret. All at a fraction of the cost of "free labor."

Prisoners can be forced to work for pennies because they have no rights. Even the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery, excludes prisoners from its protections.

And, more and more, prisons are charging inmates for basic necessities from medical care, to toilet paper, to use of the law library. Many states are now charging "room and board." Berks County prison in Pennsylvania is charging inmates $10 per day to be there. California has similar legislation pending. So, while government cannot (yet) actually require inmates to work at private industry jobs for less than minimum wage, they are forced to by necessity.

Some prison enterprises are state run. Inmates working at UNICOR (the federal prison industry corporation) make recycled furniture and work 40 hours a week for about $40 per month. The Oregon Prison Industries produces a line of "Prison Blues" blue jeans. An ad in their catalogue shows a handsome prison inmate saying, "I say we should make bell-bottoms. They say I've been in here too long."

Bizarre, but true...

Prison industries are often directly competing with private industry. Small furniture manufacturers around the country complain that they are being driven out of business by UNICOR which pays 23 cents/hour and has the inside track on government contracts. In another case, U.S. Technologies sold its electronics plant in Austin, Texas, leaving its 150 workers unemployed. Six week later, the electronics plant reopened in a nearby prison. http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/EVA110A.html

At the very least, it seems that American service people aren't getting the quality of equipment they deserve because some of it is made in prison factories by workers of questionable commitment and or skill, and perhaps in the interests of increasing private enterprise profits.

06-01-2010, 02:54 PM
I read somewhere once that the huge amount of prisoners in the US actually provides a good bit of their economy. I wonder just how much of this is true and what benefits there are to having a sort of slave labour making what are pretty important items for a military actually involved in a conflict.

Rising Sun*
06-02-2010, 07:28 AM
I wonder just how much of this is true and what benefits there are to having a sort of slave labour making what are pretty important items for a military actually involved in a conflict.

Here's one opinion. http://libertyforlife.com/jail-police/us-concentration_camp-locations.htm

It seems somewhat unbalanced, but on the other hand there is an obvious connection between the privatision of prisons and an increase in prison numbers to benefit the prison operators which in turn increases the labour available to those who utilise prison labour.

Surely no government in a democratic nation like the USA would do that!

Despite the fact that property (1) and violent (2) crime rates have declined since 1973, in the years between 1988 and 1997, the U.S. prison population increased drastically. (3) The factors contributing to the increase in the prison population included: a number of legislative enactments toughening drug and weapon penalties (4); enactments encouraging mandatory minimum sentencing; preventive detention; reduced use of parole; and increased penalties for habitual offenders. (5) During this same time, state and federal legislators were unreceptive to legislation involving new taxes and construction bonds, (6) the most utilized methods of financing state and local prisons. (7) In a little less than a decade, the U.S. prison population nearly doubled, rising from 627,600 inmates in 1988 to 1,244,554 inmates in 1997.8 In 1997, the federal prison system reported functioning at 19% over capacity, (9) and state prisons reported functioning at 24% over capacity. (10) These facts, combined with a 1992 executive order issued by President George Herbert Walker Bush requiring all federal agencies to encourage state and local governments to utilize private prisons, (11) led governments to look to private prisons (12) as a necessary supplement to public ones. (13) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6715/is_2_33/ai_n29426003/?tag=content;col1

After all, there may be no benefit to a local community in having a prison in its midst no matter how desperately it wants the prison. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1894373,00.html

But that doesn't stop small towns thinking a prison is the way to economic salvation.

The way we're going, we should see the reintroduction of debtors' prisons by about 2050 to meet the ever growing capacity of private prisons.


06-06-2010, 07:08 AM
I live in the midwest.
We have the most incarcerating state in the union.
I'm originally from a very rural area with low employment opportunity.
Generations of us have had to scatter like rats becauseof that.
We missed a lot-parents and relatives ageing and dieing for example.
The many prisons built over the state changed some of that significantly.

It didn't entirely solve the issue, but lots more of us got to stay home and be gainfully employed.
There are, of course issues involved with this, but it raised the local standard of living on several levels.

I never got involved as I was already in a retirement system