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‘Coercive and arbitrary’: New report details US prison labour | Prison News

‘Coercive and arbitrary’: New report details US prison labour | Prison News

Los Angeles, California, US – Prison labour in the United States creates $11bn in goods and services annually, a new study has found, but imprisoned workers perform vital services for low wages and with few safety guarantees.

In a nearly 150-page report released in mid-June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the University of Chicago’s Global Human Rights Clinic said nearly 800,000 of the 1.2 million Americans imprisoned in state and federal prisons perform labour during their time behind bars.

The work of prison labourers – who, the report found, often work for as little as 13 to 52 cents per hour, and in certain states, do not get paid at all – has become the subject of debate over the legacy of racism in the American prison system.

“In addition to working under coercive and arbitrary conditions, incarcerated workers in U.S. prisons are often working for paltry wages or no wages at all,” the ACLU found.

The report, which relied on public records, questionnaires, and interviews with imprisoned people, found that more than 75 percent of respondents faced disciplinary action if they refused to perform certain tasks.

“These punishments can include the loss of visitation rights for loved ones and even solitary confinement,” Jennifer Turner, the report’s lead author and researcher with the ACLU, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview.

“One formerly incarcerated person told us he was held in solitary confinement because he refused to pick cotton for a facility that was built on a former slave plantation.”

The report found that more than 80 percent of imprisoned labourers perform essential tasks for the facilities that imprison them, from janitorial duties to cooking, laundry and maintenance work.

The pay for such work is typically 13 to 52 cents an hour, and in seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas — the majority of workers receive no pay at all, the report said.

In many states, wages have remained frozen for decades. In Vermont, the report noted, the pay for imprisoned workers was last revised in 1988, and is still set at 25 cents an hour.

“Incarcerated people not only replace workers needed for typically lower-paid maintenance work,” the report said. “But they also perform work that is typically well remunerated, saving prisons even more money.”

The report also noted that nearly 15 percent of…

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