Friday, March 14, 2014

Observations on Prison Slavery by Ida B. Wells

Prison slavery is not a 20th century invention. "The Convict Lease System" illustrates that using prisoners as laborers was done in the 1890s. Then as now, defendants were largely convicted based on their race. It is discouraging that Ida B. Wells (pictured above) wrote against the same conditions that I do 125 years later. She wrote:

"Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington claim to be too poor to maintain state convicts within prison walls. Hence the convicts are leased out to work for railway contractors, mining companies and those who farm large plantations.

It is argued that it would cost large sums of money to build penitentiaries in which to confine and work the prisoners as is done in the Northern States, while the lease system brings the state a revenue and relieves it of the cost of building and maintaining prisons. The fact that the convicts labor is in this way brought into direct competition with free labor does not seem to be taken into account. The contractors, who get these laborers for 30 or 40 cents per day, can drive out of the market the man who employs free labor at $1 a day."

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