INMATES IN U.S. PRISONS CAN BE COMPELLED TO WORK FOR MEAGER WAGES OR FACE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

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Emancipation
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slave labor but not for prisoners.

Over 900,000 prisoners work in prisons across the United States. “A lot of that work is done for the prison itself or the public sector, but corporations—Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, AT&T—contract work out to prisons, too. The estimated annual dollar value of their output runs in the billions, while prisoner laborers make just cents per hour,” Wired Magazine says.

Can inmates be forced to work for meager or no wages in the United States or face solitary confinement? The answer is yes. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime of which the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

The pivotal words are “except as a punishment for crime” which means that prisons are pretty much exempt from the Amendment. Atlantic Magazine reports that “inmates at Angola [correctional facility], once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement.” They can be compelled to work for “as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens.”

Prisoners across the country are going on strike to protest the working conditions and wages Wired Magazine reports. Inmates are taking to the internet to send their messages through social media. Most facilities prevent inmates from having direct access to social media or other sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms. However, the message is still breaking through, in some cases, by family members and friends of the inmates.

 

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