Hunger Strikes Could Cripple California’s Prison Labor Force

California’s 33-headed prison behemoth – fattened with the flesh of 143,565 humans – is at 180% capacity. Disgorgement is imminent, but the lucrative prison labor industry has more than the loss of small-time offenders to consider. Hunger strikes at California prisons threaten to idle all manner of capitalist operations.

from the California Prison Industry Authority 2011-12 Annual Plan:

In these tough economic times CALPIA has increased efficiencies and new product development, thereby continuing its self sufficiency,” said Chuck Pattillo, CALPIA General Manager. “CALPIA is the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) most successful rehabilitative program, and functions without appropriations from the Legislature. CALPIA business operations reduce prison violence, reimburse victims, save taxpayer dollars, and develop work skills.

Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California.

from the Los Angeles Times:

The strike was organized by Security Housing Unit inmates at Pelican Bay protesting the maximum-security unit’s extreme isolation. The inmates are also asking for better food, warmer clothing and to be allowed one phone call a month.

The Security Housing Unit compound, which currently houses 1,100 inmates, is designed to isolate prison-gang members or those who’ve committed crimes while in prison.

The cells have no windows and are soundproofed to inhibit communication among inmates. The inmates spend 22 1/2 hours a day in their cells, being released only an hour a day to walk around a small area with high concrete walls.

Prisoner advocates have long complained that Security Housing Unit incarceration amounts to torture, often leading to mental illness, because many inmates spend years in the lockup.

But mental illness itself can be a profit opportunity. From Bloomberg:

A chief psychiatrist for California’s overcrowded prison system was paid more than any other state employee in 2010, according to payroll figures released today.

The doctor, whose name wasn’t released, had a salary range of $261,408 to $308,640 and collected a total of $838,706, according to data released by Controller John Chiang. The total includes bonuses or payout of unused vacation time or sick days, according to the controller’s office.