The New South

by Rob Horning

6 July 2006


Slavery seems to be alive and well in Louisiana. The New York Times has the details on the state’s extensive use of prison labor (coincidentally enough, it has the highest incarceration rate in the U.S.) and the gleeful attitude of the citizenry toward it.

You just call up the sheriff, and presto, inmates are headed your way. “They bring me warm bodies, 10 warm bodies in the morning,” said Grady Brown, owner of the Panola Pepper Corporation. “They do anything you ask them to do.”
It is an ideal arrangement, many in this farming parish say.
“You call them up, they drop them off, and they pick them up in the afternoon,” said Paul Chapple, owner of a service station….
Many here view the inmates essentially as commodities, who can be returned behind bars after the agricultural season is over, and the need for labor is reduced.
“Good thing about it, wintertime, you can lock them up — put them in cold storage,” said Billy Travis, a farmer and police juror, as county commissioners here are known. “I call it deep freeze.”

Interestingly, the poorest parish in Louisiana “lost 20 percent of its free population from 1980 to 2000. The inmate population, however, grew.” And sheriffs, who pimp out the prisoners, who of course are all “volunteering” for labor service, are paid handsomely for the service they provide, while the inmates themselves are lucky to make half of minimum wage. Nothing makes better sense than giving (white?) sheriffs incentive to increase the (predominantly black?) prison population; no reason to expect anything corrupt as a consequence there, I’m guessing.

Since prison populations continue to increase while the sane people leave, perhaps the prisoners can be employed in building new prisons. Gulags don’t build themselves, after all.

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