Alabama Prison Labor Program Amounts to 'Modern Slavery,' Lawsuit Claims

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Montgomery, Alabama. β€” Current and former inmates announced a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Alabama's prison labor program as a type of “modern-day slavery,” saying prisoners are forced to work for low wages – and sometimes no pay – in jobs that benefit entities. government or private companies.

The class action lawsuit also accuses the state of maintaining a discriminatory parole system with a low release rate that ensures a supply of workers while generating money for the state.

β€œThe forced labor scheme that currently exists in the Alabama prison system is the modern reincarnation of the notorious convict leasing system that replaced slavery after the Civil War,” Janet Herold, legal director at Justice Catalyst Law, said Tuesday.

The Alabama Department of Corrections and the Alabama attorney general's office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the state of violating the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, anti-human trafficking laws and the Alabama Constitution.

The lawsuit contends that the state maintains a “forced labor plan” that forces inmates to work. The lawsuit says those jobs include unpaid prison jobs in which inmates perform tasks that help keep the facility running. Inmates on work release can do jobs where companies pay the minimum wage or more, but the prison system takes 40% of the inmate's gross salary to cover the cost of their incarceration and also deducts transportation fees. and laundry services. The lawsuit referred to the state's 40% reduction as a “labor trafficking fee.”

Inmates recount their experiences

LaKiera Walker, who was previously incarcerated for 15 years, said she worked unpaid jobs at the prison, including cleaning and unloading truck jobs. She said she later worked on an inmate road crew for $2 a day and then in a work release position working 12-hour shifts in a warehouse freezer for a food company. She said she and other inmates felt pressured to work even if they were sick.

“If you didn't work, you ran the risk of going back to prison or receiving a disciplinary (infraction),” Walker said.

Almireo English, a state inmate, said trusted prisoners perform unpaid tasks that keep prisons running so prison administrators can devote their limited staff to other duties.

“Why would the slave master, of his own free will, release men on parole who help and assist him to make his paid work easier and worry-free?” English said.

Alabama's position

While the state did not comment Tuesday, it has maintained prison and work-release jobs that prepare inmates for life after incarceration.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery, but still allows forced labor “as punishment for crime.” States set a variety of wages for inmate workers, but most are low. An American Civil Liberties Union research report found that the average hourly wage for jobs inside prisons is about 52 cents.

Among the plaintiffs were two unions. The lawsuit says the supply of inmate labor puts downward pressure on wages for all workers and interferes with unions' ability to organize workers.

Lawsuits and initiatives in other states have also questioned or targeted the use of inmate labor. Men incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in September filed a lawsuit alleging they were forced to work in prison fields for little or no pay, even when temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.



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