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The Vermont State Police emblem is pictured in this undated handout photo received by Reuters on February 2, 2012 from the Vermont State Police.

Call it petulance, call it resistance, call it subversion, call it opportunism, call it what you want. I’ll call it damn funny.

Vermont prisoners modified the State’s official police insignia, sneaked an image of a pig into the design and saw it printed up on 30 police cruisers that patrolled the roads for a year.

That the amended design went unnoticed for so long is really the story for me. It was finally picked up by a trooper who was inspecting his car while out on the job.


I suppose the other startling aspect to this story is that it will alert many Americans to the fact that prisoners carry out jobs that we might not expect of an incarcerated class. Most might think it’s foolish to give prisoners even the opportunity to interfere with the emblems of law enforcement, but when it comes to the economics of prison labour, there’s a whole unique logic to be discovered.

I don’t think there’s a license plate in the country that isn’t pressed inside a prison. Each state usually has one prison workshop to punch those out. Prisoners make text books, boots, flags, mattresses, office chairs, floor stripper. They harvest collards and tomatoes, pick almonds and box eggs. In California, the huge Prison Industry Authority (PIA) distributes milk and even produces meat.

Low cost production of goods is practiced in the private as well as public prisons. Depressingly, the ever conniving business lobby-group ALEC have led the loosening of laws to secure cheap prison labor for private business.

May I recommend the article, The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor as a good introduction to the problematic trend and philosophical shift away from rehabilitation and toward profit:

Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.

If you want to know more about the intersects of business and incarceration, I recommend the book Prison Profiteers, edited by Paul Wright and Tara Herivel.

More on the VT police emblems here. Thanks to Matthew Spencer for the tip.


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