Slave economies

In New Orleans I saw men in orange jumpsuits being watched over as they worked by a man wearing a blue coat with the word Sheriff on the back.

Today’s New York Times explains what I saw. Turns out that Louisiana is the one state in the United States that allows private citizens to use prison labour:

    At barbecues, ballgames and funerals, cotton gins, service stations, the First Baptist Church, the pepper-sauce factory and the local private school—the men in orange are everywhere.Many people here in East Carroll Parish . . . say they could not get by without their inmates, who make up more than 10 percent of its population and most of its labor force. They are dirt-cheap, sometimes free, always compliant, ever-ready and disposable.
    . . .
    The churches, too, are grateful beneficiaries. “They sent me prisoners for a month” for menial chores at the First Baptist Church, said Reynold Minsky, also chairman of the local levee board. “All completely free,” Mr. Minsky added. “It’s a real good deal. Everybody is tickled.”

They’re also used at a local private school where the school’s principal, Morris Richardson, said, “We try to provide their lunch for them.” Makes you wonder what the prisoners are eating at their other jobs.

How is this economy sustainable? The unskilled work is being done by prisoners for free. The poor people who aren’t in gaol can’t find any work. How are they able to support themselves and their families?

Some would have to steal to survive, and then if they’re busted, they’re sent to gaol to join the ever-expanding pool of free and/or dirt cheap labour that so tickles Reynold Minsky. And repeat.

Them that’s got shall have . . .

If you don’t have a login for the Times go to and get one.


  1. John H on #

    who says feudalism is dead?

  2. scott w on #

    throughout that article, people are quoted as saying how great it is when labor comes without cost.

    prisoners: you don’t have to lay them off during the slow months! you don’t have to give them time off! you don’t have to pay for child care!

    if only human beings weren’t even remotely human (or if only we could figure out a way to convince ourselves they weren’t) then this business of making money would be so much simpler!

  3. Jonathan Shaw on #

    It’s not quite the same, but I was at a conference at a Uniting Church Conference Centre in Sydney some years ago and was struck by the thoroughly un-churchlike language of some of the men working in the groundds. It turned out they were prisoners on day release being employed by the church. Come to think of it, that’s probably an example of the reverse of the Louisiana practice: the employer giving some generally unattractive employees a break.

  4. Carbonelle on #

    There’s a reason Lousiana (and New Orleans in particular) are famous for being the most corrupt state in the Union. The free-wheeling gaud and glitter and laissez les bon temps roulez does not come without its price.

Comments are closed.