Reprinted from PBS by Kamala Kelkar on December 18, 2016.
Prisons in some states are withholding newspapers from inmates and attempting to shut down social media accounts operated for them by friends and relatives amid a strike against prison conditions and billions of dollars worth of prison labor.
The passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865 formally abolished slavery, but with a stipulation that enabled plantation owners to use prisoners as a replacement for the lost labor. In recent decades, Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Revlon, AT&T, Target and many other major corporations have made use of prison labor that often pays pennies to the hour, a business plan enabled by the Amendment’s exception. Prisoner duties can also include cleaning laundry, serving food and producing license plates, which reduce government costs.
As a group called the Free Alabama Movement rallied for a Sept. 9 labor strike in spring, prison authorities across the country began clamping down on news and information in ways that the American Civil Liberties Union says may be in violation of the First Amendment. …