Category Archives: Thirteenth Amendment

Immigrants Paid $1 a Day to Work in Tacoma Jail.

Image result for private jail

Article from Andy Hurst of KUOW discusses a class action lawsuit says the company running an immigration detention center in Colorado is violating federal anti-slavery laws.

Interestingly, this same company runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which is the scene of an expanding hunger strike.

Inmates joining the law suit are paid $1 per day for voluntary work. They want improved quality of food, improved medical care and higher paying jobs. The detention center is run by a private company, GEO Group, which operates under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The group Latino Advocacy said more than 750 people at the Tacoma facility were refusing meals as of Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, detainees at an Aurora, Colorado, detention center run by GEO Group have filed a class-action lawsuit. It claims the detention center violates federal anti-slavery laws.

Attorney Nina Disalvo is an attorney represents the detainees in Colorado. She said it’s illegal to pay them $1 a day.

“It’s not the market wage that GEO would have to pay if it were absorbing the real cost of running an immigrant detention center,” Disalvo said. “If GEO actually had to hire janitorial staff to clean its facility, it would have to pay that staff a market wage. And it’s not paying the detainees a market wage for this work.”

Disalvo said some of her clients were forced to do janitorial work and clean large areas within the facility without pay. “If they did not do so, they were threatened with or placed in solitary confinement,” Disalvo said. “Our clients allege that forcing people to work under threat of solitary confinement constitutes forced labor under the federal forced labor laws.”

GEO Group has denied the lawsuit’s allegations. A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs enforcement says the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Virginia Kice, ICE spokeswoman, confirmed that detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma earn $1 per day for voluntary work. She said about 25 percent of detainees participate in the program, and that no detainees perform unpaid work at the facility.

The Colorado lawsuit could have implications for the Northwest Detention Center. Northwestern University political science professor Jacqueline Stevens said that if the plaintiffs prevail, GEO Group will need to pay out up to hundreds of millions of dollars in back wages and penalties.

“This could mean the end of government contracts with the private prison industry for housing people held under immigration laws, and the return to more sensible policies,” Stevens said.

My opinion?

I’ve never been a fan of private prisons.

For those who don’t know, a private prison or for-profit prison is a place in which individuals are physically confined or incarcerated by a third party that is contracted by a government agency. Private prison companies typically enter into contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and then pay a per diem or monthly rate, either for each prisoner in the facility, or for each place available, whether occupied or not. Such contracts may be for the operation only of a facility, or for design, construction and operation.

According to the ACLU, private prisons have been linked to numerous cases of violence and atrocious conditions. Also, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for-profit companies were responsible for approximately 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners in 2015 (the most recent numbers currently available).

While supporters of private prisons tout the idea that governments can save money through privatization, the evidence is mixed at best—in fact, private prisons may in some instances cost more than governmental ones.

Finally, it appears that immigrants are the ones filling these detention centers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that in 2016, private prisons held nearly three-quarters of federal immigration detainees. In light of today’s anti-immigrant presidential administration, it’s no coincidence that private stocks for U.S. prisons have increased 100% since Trump’s election.

CXW

Prisoners on Strike

Reporter Alice Sperry of theintercept.com  wrote an article describing how prisoners around the country have called for a series of strikes against forced labor and  demanded reforms of parole systems and prison policies; as well as more humane living conditions, a reduced use of solitary confinement, and better health care.

Apparently, Texas prisons are a hotbed for the controversy. Weeks ago, inmates at five Texas prisons pledged to refuse to leave their cells because of the strike. The organizers even drafted a letter articulating the reasons for the strike. Their demands range from the specific, such as a “good-time” credit toward sentence reduction and an end to $100 medical co-pays, to the systemic, namely a drastic downsizing of the state’s incarcerated population.

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution bans “involuntary servitude” in addition to slavery, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted . . .”

Today, however, the prison industrial complex is $2 billion a year industry, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit research institute.

Sperry article describes how a majority of prisoners work for the prisons themselves, making well below the minimum wage in some states, and as little as 17 cents per hour in privately run facilities. In Texas and a few other states, mostly in the South, prisoners are not paid at all, said Erica Gammill, director of the Prison Justice League, an organization that works with inmates in 109 Texas prisons.

“They get paid nothing, zero; it’s essentially forced labor,” she told The Intercept. They rationalize not paying prison laborers by saying that money goes toward room and board, to offset the cost of incarcerating them.”

In Texas, prisoners have traditionally worked on farms, raising hogs and picking cotton, especially in East Texas, where many prisons occupy former plantations.

Although they comprise nearly half the incarcerated population nationwide — about 870,000 as of 2014 — prison workers are not counted in official labor statistics; they get no disability compensation in case of injury, no social security benefits, and no overtime.

The Texas action is not an isolated one. Prisoners in nearby Alabama and Mississippi, and as far away as Oregon, have also been alerted to the Texas strike through an underground network of communication between prisons.

In March, protests erupted at Holman Correctional Facility, a maximum security state prison in Alabama, where two riots broke out over four days. At least 100 prisoners gained control of part of the prison and stabbed a guard and the warden. Those protests were unplanned, but prisoners there had also been organizing coordinated actions that they say will go ahead as planned.

“We have to strain the economics of the criminal justice system, because if we don’t, we can’t force them to downsize,” an activist serving a life sentence at Holman told The Intercept. “Setting fires and stuff like that gets the attention of the media,” he said. “But I want us to organize something that’s not violent. If we refuse to offer free labor, it will force the institution to downsize.”

“Slavery has always been a legal institution,” he added. “And it never ended. It still exists today through the criminal justice system.”