Friday, January 6, 2017

Sheriffs as Slavemasters: Will Inmate Labor Be Used to Build Trump's Wall?

“Liberty, if I understand it at all, is a general principle, and the clear right of the subjects within the realm, or of none,” declared British statesman Edmund Burke in an April 3, 1777 message to the Sheriffs of Bristol. “Partial freedom seems to me a most invidious mode of slavery. But, unfortunately, it is the kind of slavery the most easily admitted in times of civil discord: for parties are but too apt to forget their own future safety in their desire of sacrificing their enemies.”

The tyrannical measures that had provoked the American rebellion, wrote Burke, threatened liberty throughout Britain’s dominions. Once imposed in a time of crisis, he explained, they “may be advanced further and further at pleasure, on the same argument of mere expediency.”
Thomas Hodgson is a sheriff of Bristol -- in this case, Bristol County, Massachusetts -- and a very different kind of "public servant" from those to whom Burke sent his message. Indeed, he seems to embody the preference for authoritarian expediency that Burke condemned, as demonstrated by his suggestion that the federal government should conscript prison labor to build Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

Punitive poseur: Sheriff Hodgson
“I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall,” insisted Hodgson during the swearing-in ceremony for his fourth term. “Aside from learning and perfecting construction skills, the symbolism of these inmates building a wall to prevent crime in their communities around the country, and to preserve jobs and work opportunities for them and other Americans upon release, can be very powerful.”

Hodgson used his inaugural speech to announce an initiative he calls Project N.I.C.E. – National Inmates’ Community Endeavors – through which prison convicts and inmates of county jails would provide what he calls “volunteer” labor for disaster relief and other government public works projects.

“We need to turn this country around and put law and order back in place,” insisted Hodgson. “That’s why today, I am making a formal offer to President-elect Trump that inmates from Bristol County and others from across the nation through Project N.I.C.E. will help build the wall.”

Hodgson’s call for a nation-wide levee en masse of prison labor assumes a steady supply of convicts – and the State excels at making innocent people into criminal offenders.
Contrary to what Trump and his most eager acolytes would have us believe, there is no paucity of “law and order” in American society. The level of violent crime remains at or near an historic low, even as the prison population continues to expand.

Analyzing the available data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, New York Daily News reporter David J. Krajicek contrasted national crime statistics from 2014 – the last year for which they are available – and 1987. His survey found that the overall crime rate at that point in Reagan’s presidency was 612 instances of violence for every 100,000 people; in 2014; it was 365 per 100,000, a 40 percent decline. There were roughly 320,000 fewer violent crimes in 2014 than in 1987; one notable comparison is offered by the fact that there were 20,096 murder cases in 1987, and 14,249 in 2014.

Adjusted for our larger population, there was a fifty percent decline in robbery during the same period, and an overall 48 percent decline in property crime generally.
Similar trends are seen in the number of on-duty police officer deaths: During the Reagan era, the average annual rate of officer fatalities was 189, compared to 135 during the Obama presidency.  Last year, there were 140 on-duty fatalities, a little more than half of which (77) were homicides.

He beat the Clintons, but he won't rein in the police state.
With the decline in crimes against both property and person, the State has turned to prohibition as a way of feeding its carceral apparatus. In 2015, arrests for marijuana possession outnumbered arrests for all violent crimes. This may be seen as either the final throes of a dying institution – or the beginning of its revival, under anti-marijuana obscurantist Jeff Sessions.

The population from which Hodgson would collect his slave labor force would be – overwhelmingly, if not exclusively -- non-violent offenders. Most of those conscripted from county jails would be hapless, economically marginal people incarcerated for petty violations of useless municipal ordinances, including those whose “offense” consisted of such things as failing to manicure their yards to the satisfaction of code enforcement officers.

Indeed, the reason such statutes were enacted to begin with was to provide a steady stream of fine-generated revenue, and a self-sustaining supply of inmate labor. This is documented in Douglas A. Blackmon's book Slavery by Another Name. Blackmon's research led him to conclude that municipal ordinances in the post-Emancipation South were designed and enforced with the purpose of producing large pools of inmate labor to be leased to large corporate interests. Other versions of this analysis had been advanced earlier in criminologist Thorsten Sellin's study Slavery and the Penal System, and David Oshinsky's book Worse Than Slavery.

Blackmon's account begins with the story of 22-year-old Green Cottenham, who was arrested for "vagrancy" by the sheriff of Shelby County, Alabama. "Vagrancy" was the stickiest of catch-all charges used to round up anyone unable "to prove at a given moment that he or she [was] employed."

At the time and place of Cottenham's arrest, the charge was most frequently used to justify the arrest of young black men, many of whom were itinerant workers seeking gainful employment. Cottenham was quickly convicted following a burlesque of a trial and sentenced to thirty days of hard labor.

In a fashion instantly familiar to most people incarcerated today, Cottenham was unable to pay an array of "fees" that accompanied his spurious incarceration. So the thirty-day sentence was quickly expanded to a full year. Immediately thereafter, Cottenham was "leased" -- or, as his parents, both of whom former slaves, would put it, sold -- to the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel.
Another tragic case of SYLP syndrome.
One of thousands of black men vended by sheriffs across Alabama, Cottenham was dispatched to work in Slope No. 12, a coal shaft that formed part of the Pratt Mines near Birmingham.

"Imprisoned in what was then the most advanced city of the South, guarded by whipping bosses employed by the most iconic example of the modern corporation emerging in the gilded North, [Cottenham and his co-workers] were slaves in all but name," observes Blackmon.

Thousands perished from disease, overwork, and accidents, their mortal remains interred in shallow graves not far from where they expired. All of this is seen as an indictment of a barbarous past we have supposedly transcended. But the system described by Blackmon -- opportunistic law enforcement feeding non-violent offenders into a penal system hard-welded to government-favored corporations – still exists.

Like Communist China, the American Soyuz has a Laogai (“reform through labor) prison manufacturing system. Working through Unicor, a public-private partnership created during the Great Depression to create "factories with fences," corporations employ prisoners to manufacture products from designer jeans to computer circuit boards.

The entities that profit from the American Laogai would be eager to participate in Donald Trump’s border wall project, which would be among the largest corporatist undertakings since the New Deal. Law and Order Leninists would be thrilled by the spectacle envisioned by Sheriff Hodgson – until they learn, in the most unpleasant way imaginable, how easily the State can turn harmless people into slaves.

This week's Freedom Zealot Podcast: Debtor's prisons are illegal -- and ubiquitous in the American Soyuz --

Help free minds from government cages: Visit the Libertarian Institute, and share it with your friends.

Dum spiro, pugno!


Kent McManigal said...

Just goes to show, yet again, why good people can't support "law enforcement" and remain good people. #CopsAreScum

Anonymous said...

Trump has taken on the entire establishment political class - neocon and neoliberalacon alike - and their enablers in the establishment media - and the very dangerous rogue US intelligence services. Trump has made clear in no uncertain terms that he is keen to bring an end to the brutal reign of terror wrought by the international component of the US police state - in response to which in a thinly veiled threat issued by Senator Chuck Schumer Trump was told what was in store for him if he didn't back down. One must assume that Trump likewise seeks to dismantle the internal component of the US police state - and he has clearly moved to do so regarding the onerous tyrannical US commissariats such as EPA, SEC, IRS etc. As well note that Trump has resorted to private security for his current security, a tacit declaration of the same misgivings toward government security harbored by most Americans. So one can surely understand how at the moment - facing the sort of threat by the establishment political class never seen before in American history - Trump cannot afford to simultaneously take on the state and municipal police unions. But Trump's heart surely lies with free markets and private enterprise and I think one can expect Trump to move to replace government security with private when expediency so permits.

William N. Grigg said...

Trump's heart surely lies with free markets and private enterprise and I think one can expect Trump to move to replace government security with private when expediency so permits.

As Jake wryly said at the end of Hemingway's book, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Gil said...

I thought Libertarians had no problem with forced labor in return for punishment for a crime. After all it's Constitutional.

William N. Grigg said...

Libertarians generally support restitution to victims, which can be accomplished through material compensation (e.g. paying back what one has illicitly acquired through theft or fraud) or limited-term indentured service to the victim -- not to the abstraction called "society" or the malignant fiction called the "state."

A majority of people convicted of offenses in this country haven't committed crimes against persons or property, so there is no victim to compensate. This is particularly true of people being detained in county jails of the kind Hodgson operates. Furthermore, a plurality, if not majority, of jail detainees consists of people yet to be convicted of offenses, which means imposing involuntary servitude on them for any reason is facially unconstitutional (and, more importantly, immoral).

On the subject of probation:

Per your previous performance, Gil, you are allowed to comment on a probationary basis. Trolling is permissible, but lying -- a practice for which you have made yourself notorious -- is not.

Anonymous said...

The first picture is perfect. It has been said, the people of Egypt were a "proud race". When in fact many of the Egyptian population were people with demising goals. Kind of like the USA, where many pay more than half of what they earn in wages to government in, direct or indirect taxing scams. So much for the second 13th Amendment of 1867.
Will said, "A majority of people convicted of offenses in this country haven't committed crimes against persons or property, so there is no victim to compensate."
The whole truth under a government of a Constitutional Republic, the statement holds itself to be absolutely true. However in modern times, where governments on all levels have become, for profit corporations that operate under the lie of a government that serves the people. That statement of Will's is seen as incorrect to all the people who live off of such a government. The crime/s these people have committed is, being unlucky to get caught up in laws that were put in place to bring in revenue to the, for profit government/s. The more government grows the more laws are made up that will bring in revenue to feed the larger government.

Gil said...

Au contraire, from a Libertarian standpoint slavery doesn't mean "forced to work against their will" but "unjustly forced to work against their will". It's safe to say those who get a long prison stint with the probability of hard labor are serious-level criminals who have seriously harmed others and as such don't have to right to complain about the loss of their rights.

William N. Grigg said...

Libertarianism begins from the premise that each person owns him- or herself, and that initiating force against another individual is innately immoral.

Being "forced to work" against one's will is always and everywhere wrong -- unless this is done to make specific, individual restitution to another whose property rights were violated by the one subject to such compulsion. For example: If person A has stolen from person B, the former can be properly required to serve a term of indentured labor to the latter to compensate for the theft.

Since the evil abstraction called the state can legitimately own nothing, it has no moral claim to compensation, and thus cannot compel people to work on its behalf for any purpose -- or so the libertarian perspective dictates. Our current system names the "state" as the plaintiff in every criminal prosecution, which means that the actual victim of a genuine crime does not receive restitution in any way.

As noted above, the chief business of the state's "justice" system in recent years has been arresting and prosecuting people in the service of drug prohibition, not actual criminals who have inflicted injury on others.

I should point out, Gil, that your probation where this comment thread is concerned does not grant you the luxury of a slow-motion "Gish Gallop."

Anonymous said...

Good point. I once had an uninsured driver hit me and destroy my little pick up. The deductible I had was 1,000 on uninsured driver on the property side. The state had very large fines for uninsured drivers. So I called up the state to ask them if I could get some of the fine to help with my loss on the deductible. They said, "no that I had no avenues to get any of the fine". I made the point of pointing out that the state had no losses and I was the crime victim and I did have loses. They would have none of it. So I said, that I would not file the paperwork to the state that I had an accident with an uninsured driver. That really set them off, telling me about allowing such a driver to stay on the road could cause others as myself to suffer loses. Of course my point of pointing out if the state was so worried about crime victims loses in such matters why not give us some of the large fine. What a bunch of scam artist in government to feed off of the people.