As our wars drag on with no end in sight, new technology is enabling more of our wounded troops to survive, and naturally, survival comes with added cost.

From World War II to the present, the cost of outfitting a soldier went from $170 to $17,000. It’s expected to reach $28,000-$60,000 in this decade. Every life is indeed precious, regardless of the price, but let us look at what’s behind the price.

Ever since President Eisenhower coined the term “military industrial complex,” most of us are aware of the huge profits war can provide for the weapon makers. How many of you are aware of the “prison industrial complex” (PIC)? Do you know the two complexes have now joined together to share in the rich profit bonanza?

The PIC, one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, is a network of public and private prisons, military personnel, politicians, business contacts, prison guard unions, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, all making huge profits. And what makes all this profit possible?

First is the huge increase in private prisons. In the mid-1990s there were only five in the country. There are now over 100, with 62,000 inmates. In the next 10 years, they expect to hold up to 360,000. Once they build them, they cannot make good profit unless they fill them, so laws are being passed to imprison more people on lesser charges. Over 70 percent of inmates are there for minor, nonviolent drug-related offenses and the most minor infractions can result in long sentences.

Our 2 million-plus prisoners represent one-fourth of all prisoners in the world, a half million more than in China which has five times our population.

According to the Left Business Observer, the federal PIC produces 100 percent of our military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, shirts, pants, tents, bags and canteens.

Thirty-seven states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations, allowing them to operate in state prisons. Just a few on a large list are IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Dell, Compaq, Intel and Target. Between 1980 and 1994, PIC profits went from $392 million to $1.31 billion.

In privately run prisons, workers receive a little as 17 cents an hour for a maximum of 6 hours a day ($20 a month). The highest paid are in Tennessee, where they are paid 50 cents an hour in the most skilled positions. In federal prisons, they can earn $1.25 an hour for an 8-hour day.

They are told they are being paid to learn skills for if and when they are released.

It is reported that some sweatshops in Mexico have closed down and moved across the border into prisons where they can benefit from not only slave wages, but no health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave, overtime pay, or strikes to settle. Some companies are even returning from China and Southeast Asia to prisons here where they can save not only on labor, but transportation costs as well. A deal they cannot refuse!

Organized labor is starting to get very upset and vocal as prison labor becomes more welcomed by industry and more oppressive to all workers.

I am convinced our European competitors would never stoop to this level.

Bud Deraps is a retiree in St. Louis, Mo.