Artisan: noun – a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
Convict: noun – a person found guilty of a criminal offense and serving a sentence of imprisonment.
With privatized prisons, America is witnessing the industrialization of our criminal justice system. Now, third-party businesses are able to out-source their labor to our incarcerated inmates. The supportive argument being: it not only provides wards of the Department of Corrections with on-the-job training and earns them a little money, but it provides revenue for the state and the correctional facility. However, the inmates are most-commonly paid pennies on the dollar, and there are no savings passed on to consumers. Furthermore, this is leading to alleged profiteering, where individuals are incarcerated for longer sentences, given term-extending infractions for small offences, and even being recommended for imprisonment just to increase the bottom line. In what would appear to be a storyline ripped from the likes of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, some popular outlets are now finding themselves in hot water for these practices.
Whole Foods, a company whose marketing often indicates that they are a progressive company with human interest in mind, has fallen under harsh scrutiny lately, first for over-charging, and now, for using prison labor to crate their costly “artisanal” cheeses and other products. How they are doing this, is that some suppliers of Whole Foods, specifically Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and Quixotic Farming, are partnered with Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the Colorado Department of Corrections. These companies then pay the inmates and estimated range of $.60 to $.75 a day for their work.
Among the issues is transparency. According to a statement from Whole Foods spokesman, Michael Silverman: “We felt that supporting supplier partners who found a way to be part of paid, rehabilitative work being done by inmates would help people get back on their feet.” While that sounds nice, Whole Foods currently lists phrases like “an ancient tradition” in reference to the artisanal cheeses. Unless there is a high correlation between criminals and cheese mongers, most of those laboring have a low likelihood of experience making cheese. So, while charging prices befitting of “artisanal,” consumers are sold items by essentially trainees.
This discovery is only “Whole-y” bad the embattled grocery chain, as it has brought national attention to the issue of privatized prisons and the $5 billion industry it has created. While it is a noble endeavor to help rehabilitate our inmates by teaching them skills and helping them earn money, is it fair for them to be paid so little? Do you think there may be unscrupulous practices to ensure that this “industry” is productive? What about the consumers, should they pay the same price for items that are produced for so little money? Tell us what you think.
October 2, 2015 / Ryan Serey