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#1
Old 10-28-2013, 04:28 PM
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Convicts breaking rocks?

I was just wondering if prison convicts were ever given the arduous task of breaking rocks with sledge hammers? If so, what was the purpose of breaking those rocks? Also, did convicted felons ever make license plates, as seen in old movies and cartoons?
#2
Old 10-28-2013, 04:33 PM
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License plates, yes. It was considered a good use of their time that didn't compete with other workers (as Mad Magazine said, "Help stamp out license plates! Do a stretch in prison."

Convicts were often used for building roads, which included breaking rocks for gravel. The movie I was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) was based on the life of Robert Elliot Burns, who did work on a Georgia chain gang and reported his conditions. IIRC correctly, the State of Georgia -- who protested the movie -- never said that they didn't use chain gangs, but objected because they felt they were an effective method of punishment -- in effect, not denying the practice.
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#3
Old 10-28-2013, 04:43 PM
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Thanks Chuck!
#4
Old 10-28-2013, 06:59 PM
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Several states, including California, still use prisoners for the manufacture of license plates.
#5
Old 10-28-2013, 07:01 PM
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Nelson Mandella was made to break rocks.
#6
Old 10-28-2013, 09:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asimovian View Post
Several states, including California, still use prisoners for the manufacture of license plates.
And for other things.
#7
Old 10-28-2013, 09:42 PM
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They still make license plates in many states. As well as other products for use in public buildings. There are laws about prisoners making products that move in interstate commerce but prisoners can generally make goods that are bought solely by the government. NY State, for example, has Corcraft which makes any number of products for use by the state's government, public colleges, courtrooms, and correctional facilities.

In the South they used to have a saying: "Bad boys make good roads."

The idea that work has an inherent reformatory power is an idea that emerged at the same time as, and together with, the American penal system. The idea that prisoners should work to reduce the cost of their incarceration, or at least do a good for society (as in training guide dogs) has wide appeal in the present day.

Last edited by Hello Again; 10-28-2013 at 09:46 PM.
#8
Old 10-28-2013, 11:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hello Again View Post
They still make license plates in many states. As well as other products for use in public buildings. There are laws about prisoners making products that move in interstate commerce but prisoners can generally make goods that are bought solely by the government. NY State, for example, has Corcraft which makes any number of products for use by the state's government, public colleges, courtrooms, and correctional facilities.
I believe that one of the major laws being circumvented here is the Federal Minimum Wage.
#9
Old 10-28-2013, 11:21 PM
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Obligatory song link: "In the Gravel Yard." ...makin' little rocks out of big rocks all day...
#10
Old 10-28-2013, 11:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
License plates, yes. It was considered a good use of their time that didn't compete with other workers (as Mad Magazine said, "Help stamp out license plates! Do a stretch in prison."
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asimovian View Post
Several states, including California, still use prisoners for the manufacture of license plates.
Do New Hampshire prisons share this policy? It seems a little cruel and unusual to have NH inmates continually embossing the state motto "Live free or die" onto license plates day in and day out, all the while attached to their ball and chain...
#11
Old 10-28-2013, 11:57 PM
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Inmate labor was used to build San Quentin Prison in California in the 1850s. Inmates labored during the day on the prison and slept on a ship anchored in the bay at night.
#12
Old 10-29-2013, 01:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by appleciders View Post
I believe that one of the major laws being circumvented here is the Federal Minimum Wage.
Minimum wage laws presumably do not apply to prison jobs. BTW, does anyone know if these work assignments are non-voluntary--i.e. can a prisoner refuse a work assignment? Along these lines, are convicted felons still convicted to so many years' "hard labor", as one hears or reads in old accounts? I know this is explicitly permitted by the Thirteenth Amendment, but one doesn't hear it in contemporary stories whether fictional or otherwise.

Given the security considerations, I wouldn't be surprised if there tended to be far fewer prison jobs available than prisoners to fill them. Perhaps Qadgop could say something about that?

Last edited by Spectre of Pithecanthropus; 10-29-2013 at 01:30 AM.
#13
Old 10-29-2013, 02:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chacoguy View Post
Nelson Mandella was made to break rocks.
Well, I guess we all have our purposes in life.
#14
Old 10-29-2013, 03:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
Obligatory song link: "In the Gravel Yard." ...makin' little rocks out of big rocks all day...
Also, Bobby Fuller:

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun.
I fought the law and the law won.
#15
Old 10-29-2013, 03:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spectre of Pithecanthropus View Post
Minimum wage laws presumably do not apply to prison jobs. BTW, does anyone know if these work assignments are non-voluntary--i.e. can a prisoner refuse a work assignment?
In the stockade in Melbourne, prisoners used to work overtime to shorten their term. Sentanced to 2 years hard labor (breaking rocks for roads), you could serve your time at 60 hours * 104 weeks, or 70 hours * 89 weeks.

Prisoners refusing work assignments would have done punishment + extra time, but I suppose they would have got out eventually.
#16
Old 10-29-2013, 04:49 AM
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In a documentary from the 1960s about boot camp in the United States Marine Corps, they show a short sequence about a unit which was called motivational platoon or disciplinary platoon (or something to that effect). In the clip, you can see recruits standing in a row and breaking rocks with pickaxes.
#17
Old 10-29-2013, 05:03 AM
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Originally Posted by handsomeharry View Post
Well, I guess we all have our purposes in life.


Take a look at this aerial photo. It's an old quarry belonging to a now disused prison in the middle of Stockholm.
#18
Old 10-29-2013, 05:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spectre of Pithecanthropus View Post
Minimum wage laws presumably do not apply to prison jobs.
They don't directly apply (AFAIK), but prisoners who make goods for interstate commerce generally have to be paid the prevailing wage for that type of work.

It's not for the prisoners' benefit. It's to protect businesses from having to compete against captive slave labor.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 10-29-2013 at 05:06 AM.
#19
Old 10-29-2013, 05:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spectre of Pithecanthropus View Post
Minimum wage laws presumably do not apply to prison jobs. BTW, does anyone know if these work assignments are non-voluntary--i.e. can a prisoner refuse a work assignment? Along these lines, are convicted felons still convicted to so many years' "hard labor", as one hears or reads in old accounts? I know this is explicitly permitted by the Thirteenth Amendment, but one doesn't hear it in contemporary stories whether fictional or otherwise.

Given the security considerations, I wouldn't be surprised if there tended to be far fewer prison jobs available than prisoners to fill them. Perhaps Qadgop could say something about that?
Prisoners cannot refuse a job assignment. They are not only required to do their regular job but if I told a prisoner he had to mop a floor or something like that, he had to do it. The only acceptable grounds for refusal is if a prisoner has a medical permit saying he is unable to do that particular job.

One result of this is you end up with what we call "six men on a broom" - you have more prisoners than you have actual work so you end up dividing jobs up among several people. You might have a prisoner whose "job" is to empty out the wastebaskets twice a day.

Industrial jobs like making license plates or furniture or clothing are some of the most popular jobs. They're usually the highest paid jobs so the prisoners working them have more money.
#20
Old 10-29-2013, 05:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Donnerwetter View Post
In a documentary from the 1960s about boot camp in the United States Marine Corps, they show a short sequence about a unit which was called motivational platoon or disciplinary platoon (or something to that effect). In the clip, you can see recruits standing in a row and breaking rocks with pickaxes.
Here's the film (sequence starts at 13:42):

http://youtube.com/watch?v=PJCzHVzOXmw

(The film is actually from 1973).
#21
Old 10-29-2013, 07:23 AM
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Correctional Custody is actually a military prison or jail system, for really bad eggs.
#22
Old 10-29-2013, 07:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hello Again View Post
The idea that work has an inherent reformatory power is an idea that emerged at the same time as, and together with, the American penal system. The idea that prisoners should work to reduce the cost of their incarceration, or at least do a good for society (as in training guide dogs) has wide appeal in the present day.
The idea of work as a reformatory power maybe, but the use of penal prisoners for work? As old as galleys at the very least.

Last edited by Nava; 10-29-2013 at 07:42 AM.
#23
Old 10-29-2013, 08:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asimovian View Post
Several states, including California, still use prisoners for the manufacture of license plates.
In my state they still use convicts to make plates, but they've switched from the old stamping mills to a digital printing process. So now it's more of a white-collar job running the computers and mailing the plates and such. Also, we have a huge number of custom "organization" plates, which the convicts do the graphic layout on and in some cases actually do the artistic design on. I think it's interesting that what was originally a menial punitive job has evolved into something that has real vocational value.
#24
Old 10-29-2013, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Enola Gay View Post
Do New Hampshire prisons share this policy? It seems a little cruel and unusual to have NH inmates continually embossing the state motto "Live free or die" onto license plates day in and day out, all the while attached to their ball and chain...
Bill Morrissey, the folksinger, had a song about that.
#25
Old 10-29-2013, 09:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary T View Post
"In the Gravel Yard." ...makin' little rocks out of big rocks all day...
Obligatory song link #2: Nina Simone's "Work Song".
#26
Old 10-29-2013, 10:46 AM
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Some prisoners now work in call centers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
One result of this is you end up with what we call "six men on a broom" - you have more prisoners than you have actual work so you end up dividing jobs up among several people. You might have a prisoner whose "job" is to empty out the wastebaskets twice a day.
Prisons are government offices, after all.

(j/k; I'm a bureaucrat myself).
#27
Old 10-29-2013, 02:37 PM
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Bumper sticker seen on an Illinois car:

"Illinois - where our ex-governors make our license plates"
#28
Old 10-29-2013, 03:17 PM
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Oh, also if you want some physical evidence that convicts did indeed make license plates, ours actually used to say "Prison Made" on them. Despite how it looks, this was not the Montana state motto at the time: http://licenseplatesselect.biz/vinta...ssed-in-plate/
#29
Old 10-29-2013, 03:32 PM
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Here in South Dakota we have Pheasantland Industries run by the DOC.

Also, some low risk prisoners are used to help clean up after storms or groundskeeping or other tasks at the various government entities such as college campuses. When I went to the state archives, they had a prisoner working there assisting customers.
#30
Old 10-29-2013, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by appleciders View Post
I believe that one of the major laws being circumvented here is the Federal Minimum Wage.
Nope. Wage laws don't apply to prisoners. In fact, prisoners can be required to work without pay. It's right there in the 13th Amendment:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

However, there's Federal a law that requires prisoners to be paid equal to free labor if they make products that move in interstate commerce. The Ashurst Sumners Act. Note that the law doesn't apply to products that are never sold across state lines (which includes products made in state prisons which are sold back to the same state), or to services, or to certified wage-parity programs.
#31
Old 10-29-2013, 05:19 PM
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I have friends that are New York state corrections officers. Different prisons have different shops. One does metal work, another wood, another sews clothes etc... All the items are for state use only like filing cabinets or desks, not sold on the open market to undercut private buisnesses.

The metalworking shop I was told about where my friend works, said the inmates working there generally had 10 years in before they were consiered for a job there. Long enough to prove they are reliable and it's a reward for good behaviour. They don't want a malcontent in front of a punch press feeding in thousands of dollars of metal all day and intentionally doing it wrong and making scrap.
#32
Old 10-29-2013, 05:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Bomb Killed Them View Post
Some prisoners now work in call centers.
"Good evenin'. T'anks fer callin' Comcast Customer Soivice. My name is Rocco. How can I help youse t'day?"
#33
Old 10-29-2013, 05:33 PM
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Prisoners also helped build the Ohio Statehouse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_St...se#Description
#34
Old 10-29-2013, 05:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
One result of this is you end up with what we call "six men on a broom" - you have more prisoners than you have actual work so you end up dividing jobs up among several people. You might have a prisoner whose "job" is to empty out the wastebaskets twice a day.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bomb Killed Them View Post
Prisons are government offices, after all.

(j/k; I'm a bureaucrat myself).
I won't defend it. It's a dumb policy in my opinion. I think they'd be better off creating a certain number of real jobs that needed to be done and giving these to the number of prisoners needed to fill those jobs. They'd get pay and privileges and the other prisoners would be "unemployed".

In my opinion, this would foster the idea that a job is something valuable that you sought out and not just something automatic that you try to evade.
#35
Old 10-29-2013, 05:57 PM
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I was up on Dartmoor the other day and next to the grim Victorian Prison there is indeed a big quarry as well as lots of neatly made stone walls all over the place, seems stone formed a big part of prison work in the old days.
#36
Old 10-29-2013, 06:16 PM
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I have always heard it was to build character.
#37
Old 10-29-2013, 07:04 PM
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At last, a video of prisoners busting rocks with sledgehammers:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=S5xnc1p7BMk
#38
Old 10-29-2013, 07:06 PM
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I'm from Maryland and I know at the WCI federal prison, the prisoners make furniture for schoolrooms and the the prison sells to the state at ridiculously inflated prices since they have an exclusive contract or something.
#39
Old 10-29-2013, 10:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
... this would foster the idea that a job is something valuable that you sought out and not just something automatic that you try to evade.
In this thread, SSG Schwartz says (among many other interesting things) that jobs inside his military prison are valued by prisoners both for the money you can earn, and to fill the time: http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/...d.php?t=631030
#40
Old 10-30-2013, 12:23 AM
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What about Prison Blues (jeans)? According to their website they're made in a prison, and I know they are (or were last time I went to the local army / navy store) available commercially.
#41
Old 10-30-2013, 04:52 PM
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I believe Prison Blues is a certified PIECP shop. That means they must pay the prisoners a wage equal to that paid to free workers doing the same work (this is called "wage parity"), and abide by a list of other regulatory requirements (work must be voluntary, must consult with local unions and private industry, etc.). PIECP goods can move in interstate commerce.

Last edited by Hello Again; 10-30-2013 at 04:53 PM.
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