‘the use of the news columns for propaganda purposes’

It was not many years ago that newspaper editors resented what they called ‘the use of the news columns for propaganda purposes.’ Some editors would even kill a good story if they imagined its publication might benefit any one. This point of view is now largely abandoned.

Edward “Father of Modern Public Relations” Bernays, Propaganda (1928), p. 150

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Maryland Correctional Enterprises: Prison Labor With A Smile

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) is the state’s own prison labor company. A semi-autonomous subdivision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), MCE commands a workforce of thousands of prisoners, paid just a few dollars per day.

According to a search of the ProQuest database (available with your Enoch Pratt Free Library card; County residents try here), The Baltimore Sun has run a total of nine articles covering MCE since it changed names in 2005. That’s about one article per year. One hundred percent of these articles show MCE in a neutral or positive light, reporting mostly on officials who worked as overseers of MCE and on good works done by prisoners, e.g. “From the Prisons Comes a Thanksgiving Feast“, written by Peter Hermann in November 2009.

“Myra Wooten’s Thanksgiving came from prison.  Officers from state correctional institutions in Jessup and Baltimore delivered a large box packed with a week’s worth of food, including a frozen 13-pound turkey, to the East Baltimore resident.”

Later in the article:

“Even inmates get into the act: Those who work at the Maryland Correctional Enterprises Meal Plant in Hagerstown cooked more than 700 turkeys for the poor.”

The Sun has  also described MCE as a useful stepping-stone for inmates, which will help them to find employment after they are released. (TV news outlets report on MCE with similar cheeriness.)

These reports do not provide the public with meaningful information about the scope of prison labor in Maryland. Futhermore, they gloss over serious questions about the practice of using prisoners as hypercheap labor. MCE workers make far less than minimum wage, earning between $1.50 and $5.10 for an entire day’s work.

MCE logo etc

The Sun, seemingly, goes out of its way to highlight the arguments in favor of prison labor, but fails completely to cover the other side of the story. Critics of the practice say that prison labor, akin to outright slavery,  is unethical, abusive, and bad for the economy.

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