Where is the money going? The untold story of who really benefits from human incarceration


A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

By Deon Miller
Contributing Writer

There are a lot of different companies who benefit from mass incarceration. It is not just the Department of Corrections (DOC) — some of your favorite companies pray on us coming to prison because we are big business to major corporations.

Just to name some companies I know who benefit off of the prison system: NIKE, ADIDAS, FILA, NEW BALANCE, TIDE, COLGATE, RCA and JPay. The DOC buys things wholesale and sells those items to prisoners at marked-up prices.

Anytime someone sends his or her people money to buy shoes or anything from MINNCOR Industries [which provides manufactured goods and services to government] or the DOC, different corporations benefit from that sale, making millions every year.

Why doesn’t any one of those corporations give back to the families or communities who help them make millions? More importantly, why do we support these companies if they don’t support us?

The DOC takes 10 percent to 20 percent of everything (including money from families) that comes into a prisoner’s account, because we have to pay the prison for being confined and being away from our love ones. Where does that 10-20 percent go that’s being skimmed off the top? What does that pay for?

The government pays out $2,500 for each body in prison every month for the general care of prisoners. So the DOC is getting money not just from the State, but from all the inmates’ families as well. In addition to all of that, the State and local governments won’t allow our people to get a tax credit at the end of the year for the jobs we work.

We inmates work in prison for 25 cents an hour. The most a prisoner might see is $1/hour
after he has been on the job for a year. Every two weeks a prisoner might make $20 (the low end) to $80 (the high end), but the DOC takes half of whatever you make, so you only really get $10 to $40 every two weeks.

How do I pay for a $300 TV that’s worth less than $10 when you get out? How do I pay for phone calls that the DOC doubled from .38 cents to .81 cents per call?

My question is: If the DOC knows inmates can’t buy everything we need with the only working opportunity that’s available to us, then who’s going to pay for it? I’ll tell you who is going to pay for it — our family, friends, the community, and the DOC knows that.

Why are single mothers and other hardworking family members also paying money to the DOC as if they are incarcerated as well? Where is the money going? And why is it okay for the prison system to take money not only from us but also from our communities?

Who is making money for over-charging inmates for items? Is it the warden? The prison commissioner? Where the money goes should be transparent for the whole community to see, just as transparent as our criminal records being online for anyone to look up.

I feel a lot of businesses and corporations have a hand in benefiting off of human bodies being incarcerated, because humans coming to prison is big business. It’s not about rehabilitation. It has everything to do with money.

Prisons don’t make money unless they are full. How can prisons be reformed when it’s more about the money?
Deon Miller is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to info@voicesforracialjustice.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.