Are Prison Crews Cleaning Up After Irma Really Just Slave Labor?

So you think slavery is dead?  What if I told you another type of slavery exists?  That slavery exists in the form of prison labor, and the prisoners are coming from draconian drug laws, among others.  Underground Journalist has a thought-provoking article examining the case of prison la

From Underground Journalist

Inmate work crews have been a part of Florida’s history since the state’s first penitentiary opened in 1868. Back then, as lawmakers debated how to pay for the new prison, they came up with a novel solution: The free labor of prisoners, they decided, would offset the cost of the facility.

The next question, naturally, was how to get inmates. That was another easy fix: The state passed vagrancy laws intended to jail black people — who many white Floridians still believed “would not work without compulsion” — and sentence them to hard labor.

That dark history of racist, forced labor was on Alana Greer’s mind as she drove past an inmate work crew carrying a truckload of hurricane debris on Coral Way last Friday.

“It was definitely really alarming,” says Greer, the cofounder of Miami’s Community Justice Project, a legal firm that works on social justice issues. “I know the history of inmate labor and the way people aren’t compensated and the ties to slavery, really. I was alarmed when I saw that.”

Across the state, hundreds of prisoners are now being used to clean up the mess Hurricane Irma left when it tore through Florida earlier this month. The Department of Corrections tells New Times that crews have been dispatched on hurricane-related missions in Dixie, Gilchrist, and Franklin Counties in the Panhandle and the city of Avon Park in Central Florida…..

……Paul Wright, the director of the Human Rights Defense Centerin Lake Worth, argues that the “work” is really much closer to outright slavery.

“It’s not that much different from a slave plantation,” he says. “The only difference is now the slave owners wear uniforms and their employer is the state.”

Part of the problem lies in the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except as a punishment for anyone convicted of a crime. Another major hurdle is the fact that most inmates lack the autonomy and means of communication to effectively organize themselves. Using contraband cell phones, thousands of prisoners staged a nationwide strike last year to protest low or nonexistent wages, but there’s no indication that a single lawmaker listened, Wright says.

“There has been no effort in the U.S. since 1865 to do anything about prison slavery,” he says.

 

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