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Op-Ed: Five Killer Whales Versus 2.3 Million Humans

By John Dewar Gleissner     Oct 26, 2011 in Business
Many people label relationships and situations they dislike as "slavery." Communists call salaried workers "wage slaves"
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in a silly lawsuit is trying to use the 13th Amendment, which abolished chattel slavery, to “free” killer whales from SeaWorld's clutches. Naturally, the lawsuit was filed in California.
There are many types of slaveries, depending upon one's point of view. The slavery referred to in the 13th Amendment is definitely chattel slavery of African-Americans. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery only after hundreds of thousands of American soldiers died. Domesticated animals have always served human interests. People, not animals, are protected by the Constitution.
If we wish to draw a comparison between antebellum slavery and any modern slaveries, we had best look at the way our states and federal government treat 2.3 million human prisoners right now. Radicals like Angela Davis call modern mass incarceration “New Age slavery.” Former ACLU attorney Michelle Alexander says the stigma faced by convicted felons is “The New Jim Crow.” Those left-wingers have a point, but what we are doing right now is actually worse for our human prisoners than the slavery we abolished with the 13th Amendment.
The 13th Amendment preserved involuntary servitude “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The problem with the American penal system now is that it utilizes incarceration too much and does not effectively employ 2.3 million prisoners in useful labor. Instead, the United States runs a form of state slavery on a massive scale. The state slavery of mass incarceration treats its slaves and slave owners (i.e. law-abiding taxpayers) much worse than privately held antebellum slaves and owners were treated. Modern state slavery, however just, dwarfs the intrinsic injustice and associated oppressions of slavery before 1865. Private forces almost always do a better job running things, including slavery.
Privately held slaves worked very hard and productively, whereas our modern penitentiary prisoners usually cannot find productive work, even though prisoners want to work. Federal and state statutes severely limit prison labor and industries, giving our state and federal governments a double or even triple monopoly over prison labor and industries. Only a fraction of prisoners work usefully. If they work at all, they are usually restricted to government jobs, often making goods that are not legally permitted to cross state lines. The federal and state governments can buy prison-made goods, but they do not have to. Meanwhile, Chinese prison-made goods illegally enter the U.S. with impunity.
The scarcity of profitable prison work is one of the main reasons each prisoner now costs society as a whole every year from between $25,000 to $50,000 -- and also why recidivism rates are so high. Prisons in 1800s made profits and were self-supporting until affected businesses and labor outside prison stopped that form of competition. Every responsible prison reformer believed prisoners ought to work at useful labor, but over the last 125 years, prison labor diminished and idleness created predictable consequences.
Californians, instead of debating the fate of five orcas, should contemplate healthier ways to incarcerate their massive prison population. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a court order finding California deficient in the provision of constitutionally mandated levels of healthcare to its prisoners. It would help if federal and state legislation got out of the way and let incarcerated people work for private employers inside their prisons. To avoid competing with domestic labor and industries, we might restrict prisoners to manufacturing goods now made exclusively overseas. Prisoners could then pay more child support and restitution to their victims.
We need to re-focus our attention on humans after the lawsuit about five killer whales is dismissed. There are only five orcas, and we have 2.3 million Americans rotting behind bars at great taxpayer expense.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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