In academic articles collected via the world wide web

In this essay, the extent to which private
prisons in the United States are morally legitimate will be discussed. To
understand why private prisons could not be seen as morally legitimate, one has
to understand the moral disadvantages that arise. This is a problem, because
the prisoners are no longer treated as human beings. Moreover, morality refers
to the custom of action. The moral problem lies in the action that private
prisons tend to cut costs, in order to increase profit. In the process of doing
so, the prisoners are no longer seen as individuals to be cared for, but
workers that provide the prisons with capital to sell. By cutting costs,
prisoners are held in inhumane conditions including, overcrowding and lack of
safety. A literature review, consisting of academic articles collected via the
world wide web will be used to assess the question. Moreover, the information
has been collected using university platforms, such as the online library. The
information will be structured by first looking at the use of captive employees
and the reasons behind the provided bad conditions, then the influence of these
bad working conditions will be discussed and the success of the firms providing
such conditions. Lastly a normative economical approach will be used, to
recommend ways on how to increase moral legitimacy.

1.    
Theoretical
Framework

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The
Use of Captive Employees in Private Prisons

The term captive employees can be defined as workers that are working
under forced circumstances. Captive employees can be referred to several
aspects, such as data sharing, child labour and prisoners. The word captive
refers to someone being confined and the first example of such would be
prisoners or inmates. However, to clearly distinct the meaning of captive
employees, child labour will be briefly touched on. In Bangladesh, captive
employees can be identified as the child workers who are being forced into
silence by the government about their working conditions. They are captive in
the sense that they have no other options in their circumstances and are under
confinement from their workers and the government Abrams and Satter (2017).

 

Using captive employees can benefit
for-profit organizations, because they enable people in bad circumstances to
earn some money. By working with captive employees for-profit organizations are
giving people faith in their rehabilitation and competence in any situation Logan (1990). It may give
people an opportunity to earn money that would be unable to earn money
somewhere else. Furthermore, by using captive employees, such as prisoners,
firms enable the process of challenging the government’s monopoly Logan (1990). Moreover,
imprisonment can be seen as a public good, since it serves the public (Logan,
1990) and currently (under the government’s power) the facilities are crowded
and only provide minimum security. By privatizing prisons, profits can be split
and facilities can be expanded and renovated to benefit the prisoners, as well
as help rural towns stabilize their employment, and increase homebuilding
Kirchhoff (2010).

In addition, using prisons to
finance your organization, has been proven to be successful. An example would
be Corrections Corporations of America reporting almost double the revenues of
the previous year, with $1.6 billion in 2008 Kirchhoff (2010). With high
revenues, organizations can invest the saved money into other sections of the
supply chain, thus increasing productivity and sales, which can result in
higher revenues and thus enable further innovation and expansion.

However, although using captive
employees may be beneficial for the organization, but they are exploiting
people that are in bad situations. To have a more in-depth understanding of
exploitation, one has to understand that the exploitation refers to the idea
that, if prisoners had a choice or the power to speak up for themselves, they would
advocate for a better treatment. For example, the bad conditions (including
increased violence and an unbearable environment) (Selman & Leighton, 2010)
go against the human rights violation Article 3 of the European Convention on
Human Rights, which goes against the prohibition of inhuman and degrading
treatment (Judgement in the Case, 2001). To elaborate further on how captive
employees are exploited and put into bad working conditions, prisoner labour
will be further discussed.

Due to prisoners being an asset to
organizations, eligible inmates are not released even when they are in
overcrowded prisons (“4 Reasons,” 2014). Secondly, others jobs are being
replaced with prison labour, as the opportunity to pay a captive workforce more
appealing is than to pay set wages prisons (“4 Reasons,” 2014). Lastly,  prison labour is essentially modern slavery,
which is supported by their violation against European Human Rights and by the
fact that inmates do not have a choice whether they want to work or not
(Judgement in the Case, 2001).Those which chose not to participate are punished
through a loss in privileges or solitary confinement. Further the reasons
behind these conditions will discussed further.  

 

Reasons Behind the Provided Bad Conditions

The focus of these private
prisons companies are the material interests, such as the outcome. The
separability thesis can explain this focus, as it states that material
interests and moral sentiments are not interactive but rather an addition to
one another Cowen and Tabarrok (2015). Moreover, the International Labour Organization
(ILO) is responsible for setting guidelines and restrictions for working
conditions, so there is a general and recognized standard which should be
followed globally to enable opportunities and productive work (International Labour Organization,2017). Although ILO has implemented stricter
regulations, currently the prison companies are willing to pay the fines, as
they see worse regulations as something that can be bought. Contrary to believing
that policies value moral sentiments, individuals and corporate firms act in
self-interest. Furthermore, the assumption of separability discusses how
policies put into place drive economic self-interest to ethical-interest, are unsuccessful
Reiss (2017). This is because individuals acting in self-interest, such as Geo
Group do not take the effect on others into account when making business
decisions.

Moreover, an additional cause for poor working conditions is
the focus on improving the supply chain of a business. The problem with this
focus is that workers start to become small parts that are used to improve
productivity, rather than looking at them as a collaborative work force which should
be respected McAllister (2011). In the private prison industry,
costs are saved by “cutting corners” Gilna (2016). The mentioned corners refer
to a safe environment, medical care and adequate food and are cut by employing
employees with low qualifications or not offering the standard facility
maintenance Gilna (2016). By finding ways to save money in each of these
sectors, prisons can earn between $2,771 and $3,366 per prisoners each year Gilna
(2016). An example of how a company has been able to benefit from cutting costs
is GEO. Geo Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the United
States, and have already received violation claims, by threatening with
solitary confinement if they refuse to work for free Eidelson (2017). In 2016,
Former President Obama declared to decrease privately run prisons. Resulting in
Geo Group donating $100,000 to Donald Trump, who later reversed Obama’s policy
and resulting in a 70% rise in company stock price for Geo Eidelson (2017). This
example shows, how money is the reason behind private prisons, as the business
processes are supported by the government, in addition to providing high
profits to the owners.

In addition, another explanation for the bad conditions would be
framing. Framing refers to the unfair behaviour (exploitation) of people when “market-like”
competitions offers an excuse.” The private prison industry is a combined force
that is not being asked to account for their exploitation, individually as firms,
because of the difficulty of identify who is responsible. An example of this
behaviour (framing) and consequences to government regulations is explained in
an experiment where the depletion of forests was linked to individual income Bowles
(2008). In the condition where a government regulation was implemented,
resulted in a short-period where there was a decrease in depletion. However, as
people realized that even after paying a fine, acting in self-interest was more
profitable for them. Thus, resulting in further exploitation. This experiment
represents the behaviour of privatized prisons, as they continue to exploit
their employees (similar to the forests), regardless of regulations (labour
standards set by ILO) because of the self-interest of being more profitable
(income).

 Furthermore, the influence of bad
working condition will be elaborated, in order to understand the importance of
them.

 

Influence of Bad Working Conditions on
Prisoners

If the quality of the workplace is not set to a satisfactory standard,
it can negatively influence the job performance, as well as the persons
well-being. Although individual employees may have different understandings of
what a suitable environment
is to work in, there are three main factors which will be explained further.
These factors are the physical environment, compensation and duration. Firstly, duration refers to the
amount of time one must work per day, as well as the intensity. In prisons,
they work seven to eight hours a day, in different sectors including textiles,
furniture, electronics and metals Thalmann
(2004).  This influences the
conditions, as one may be unable to get enough sleep if the hours are two high.
Secondly, physical environment
refers to the surroundings including temperature, comfort and noise. If workers
are required to work in extensive heat or cold, it has a negative effect on
their comfort, as well as on their ability to concentrate and be productive.
Moreover, the aspect of comfort also takes into account if a worker has to
stand or sit, and on what surface (e.g. sitting on the ground). The extent of
overcrowding in prisons has come to the point where fifty or more prisoners
need to sleep together in one room. This leads to sleep deprivation, privacy
deprivation and a lack of supervision. Thalmann (2004).  

 Lastly, the aspect of compensation refers to
what you gain or lose. In private prisons, the prisoners receive a small
compensation for their work, on average being between $0.12 to 40.40 an hour Thalmann
(2004). These low wages are often justified by stating that these workers are
less productive than workers not working in prisons Thalmann (2004). One has to
take into account that prisoners have less choice than free workers and are
thus restricted making their already low wages, worthless in their environment.
Money is used to help overcome negative emotions or experiences, however, their
earnings do not compensate for the poor conditions. The influence of these bad conditions, in
addition to the already stated ones, include more sexual abuses and higher
inmate violence, which leads to increased prison deaths Thalmann (2004).  

Sadly, the ethical reasons against
using captive employees have not been too effective when trying to stop
organizations, on the other hand one effective method has being advocating the
importance of brand image. Using prisoners has increasingly pushed-away
customers and potential customers. As an organization, one has to keep in mind
what consumers relate to the company, and try to form this relation into a
positive one, which using captive employees does not do. Although, using
captive employees by itself, may not be a bad thing, exploiting their position
is. For example, if prison workers would receive adequate wages for their work
and acceptable working conditions (getting enough sleep, food and comfort) then
it could benefit both sides. Whereas one may wish this kind of beneficial
cooperation would be possible, many organizations choose to ignore this issue,
thus meaning that captive employees will still be exploited until further
restrictions are made. However, one has to take into account, that the
exploitation would not occur, if private prison industries would not be
successful in the market.

 

Success of Private Prison Companies

Bad working conditions can be seen in many forms including too long
hours for little money, increased exposure to exhaustion, or other ways how workers
are exploited for low wages. Furthermore, another explanation
of why poor working conditions can occur, would be the phenomena of active
inertia, which refers to the incapability of adjusting to change Full (1999). Active inertia explains poor working conditions to a
certain extent, which is that the idea behind it is that the adaptation and
recognition to changing trends (increased awareness and dislike of poor working
conditions) can cause a business to lose customers.

However, although bad working conditions are not seen as a desirable
attribute to have as a company, there are still many companies that are not
preventing them. Moreover, the perception of brands can be
vague, due to corporations shaping how they present themselves. In addition, to
changing perceptions through advertisement, companies that do not manufacture
their goods themselves, claim to be unaware of the bad conditions. By doing
this they are trying to decrease their responsibility regarding this issue and
protect their reputation, as customers becoming aware of bad working conditions
can boycott the business Newbury and Gardberg (2010).

However,
identifying which companies benefit from prison labour can be difficult, as
many companies only benefit indirectly from the goods and services provided
from companies such as Geo Group or CoreCivic. Known businesses that are
indirectly supported through prison labour are McDonalds, Wendy’s and JCPenny Sloan
(2015). They are only indirectly affected, as they make contracts with firms
that state they use prison labour, instead of directly getting it from prisons.
This makes it difficult to identify which companies are involved with prison
labour, thus making it challenging to boycott the right companies.

Although
the asymmetric information between consumer and businesses rises the problem of
deception, it also shines a light on the moral dilemmas that businesses themselves
may be unaware of the labour conditions their products are being made under
Voigt (2011). This further supports the idea that private prisons are not
morally legitimate, as they develop a chain of asymmetric information, which is
unmoral. Establishing that private prisons are to a larger extent not morally
legitimate, the next step is to evaluate how to improve this assumption.

 

Methods to
increase moral in Private Prisons

The ETI and ILO are two of the
largest organizations dedicated to decreasing poor working conditions and
offering alternatives for companies to use, in other words they promote
corporate social responsibility. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers
to the actions and initiatives companies take to take responsibility of their
effects on the environment and social welfare (Investopedia, n.d..). Due to the
active effort by organizations like ETI and ILO, to raise awareness of poor
working conditions and making companies accountable for their consequences,
more businesses are increasing their investment in corporate social
responsibility. These efforts are paying off, in the sense that more companies
are recognizing the importance of this issue, more specifically 64% of CEO’s
says that CRS should be a core attribute to their business (Redefining Business, 2016).   Companies are
keen to adjusting to their stakeholder’s expectations, as they believe that in
the future the most successful firms will be the ones that prioritized
corporate social responsibility, added value to it and are interested in
increasing it (Redefining Business,
2016, p.16). Altogether, being aware of poor
working conditions and possibly even adapting corporate social responsibility
is important to build trust with customers, partners, governments and
employees, in order to further support and strengthen a business (OECD,2001).

Moreover, using normative ethics to evaluate the morals of private prisons
can provide a more specified view, prioritizing individual well-being.
Normative ethics takes a position on what the right moral action is and can be
separated into utilitarian (outcome counts), deontological (actions count) and
virtue ethics (subconscious actions count) Thomas (2011). In a utilitarian
perspective, the outcome of private prisons is that it results in discomfort
for prisoners and in virtue ethics, the actions itself are seen as morally
wrong Playford, Roberts and Playford (2015). Moreover, the deontological approach could increase the moral legitimacy in
private prisons as it is currently low. The deontological approach tries to
achieve good actions, instead of focusing on the beneficial outcomes Sloot
(2016). If the institutions running the prisons would focus on the prisoners
needs, it would have higher moral than in their current situation.

Using the forms of normative ethics, including utilitarian,
deontological and virtue can help increase moral legitimacy as it reflects on
the individual well-beings. However, to understand if these forms would help
captive employees would require further research, more specifically field
studies, as they would provide a natural setting. To investigate the moral
legitimacy further, one could ask, to what extent utilitarian ethics would
increase moral legitimacy in private prisons. Based on the literature review
provided, using normative forms of ethics could increase the moral in private
prisons

 

3. Conclusion

In
conclusion, the issue of morally legitimacy lies in the way the prisoners are
being treated while in captivity. Private prisons are morally legitimate to
extent to which they choose to use prisoners unfortunate position to their own
advantage. The issue is whether it is wrong to offer to buy things from
prisoners, just because their circumstances make their labour cheap. The
prisoners lack of freedom is being exploited by private companies by paying low
wages, overcrowding the prison facilities and providing non-nutritional food to
save money, and thus to increase profit. The conditions in which prisoners are
held weighed as more important than the profits made, because they affect
people and how they are treated as part of our society. If private prisons
would provide adequate living environments for the prisoners and a fair wage
there may not be a moral issue. However, currently the majority of private
prisons are running less morally legitimate businesses, as they use people in a
less fortunate position to benefit them further. The market eroded the moral
value of the prisoners lives. By only taking the outcomes into account, private
prisons only maximize their own values. In order for private prisons to be more
legitimate they need to balance their value of outcomes and well-being of
prisoners.