An anti-union state, South Carolina adds to the “race to the bottom” by offering employers cheap captive prison labor. The largest dairy farm in the state will be in a prison. The state aggressively markets its Prison Industries program to private employers, offering to “lease” prisoners or allow businesses to open branches within prison gates.
According to the state Department of Corrections, in one program, prisoners making desks and other office equipment for public agencies can make “a wage of up to 35 cents an hour.” In another program, the state negotiates with private customers, and prisoners earn from 35 cents to $1.80 an hour. And in the Prison Industry Enterprise Program, inmates produce goods for private employers ranging from apparel to cable wires. They are supposed to be paid the “prevailing wage,” and to not compete with private workers. They are allegedly paid from $5.15 to $10 per hour, but must pay for their “room and board,” and have up to 20 percent of their wages confiscated to repay their victims.
The next time you attend a graduation, remember that the gowns worn by the graduates are likely to have been made by South Carolina prison labor. The main gown plant of Jostens, a Fortune 400 company that is the largest manufacturer of graduation gowns in the country, is in Laurens, about 25 miles from the Leath Correctional Facility, a 350-bed prison for women.
According to Josh Levine in a 1999 Perspective magazine article, electronic-cable supplier Escod Industries abandoned plans for a facility in Mexico and moved to South Carolina. The wages of South Carolina prisoners undercut those of Mexican sweatshop workers, and the state offered to subsidize equipment and industrial space.”