Inmates Sue Prison Over Forced Labor in Fields

Punishment for not meeting quotas can include solitary confinement, filing says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 16, 2023 12:50 PM CDT
Inmates Sue Prison Over Forced Labor in Fields
Prison guards ride horses that were broken by inmates as they return from farm work detail at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola in 2011.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Men incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary filed a class-action lawsuit Saturday, contending they have been forced to work in the prison's fields for little or no pay, even when temperatures soar past 100 degrees. They described conditions as cruel, degrading, and often dangerous, the AP reports. The men, most of whom are Black, work on the farm of the 18,000-acre, maximum-security prison known as Angola—the site of a former slave plantation—hoeing, weeding, and picking crops by hand, often surrounded by armed guards, the suit said. If they refuse to work or fail to meet quotas, they can be sent to solitary confinement, according to disciplinary guidelines.

"This labor serves no legitimate penological or institutional purpose," the suit said. "It's purely punitive, designed to 'break' incarcerated men and ensure their submission." It names as defendants Angola's warden, Timothy Hooper, and officials with Louisiana's department of corrections and its moneymaking arm, Prison Enterprises. A spokesman for the department of corrections and an attorney for the department did not immediately comment on the suit. The US has historically locked up more people than any other country, with more than 2.2 million inmates in federal and state prisons, jails, and detention centers. They can be forced to work because the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery after the Civil War, made an exception for those "duly convicted" of a crime.

The plaintiffs include four men who formerly or are currently working in the fields, along with Voice of the Experienced, an organization of current and formerly incarcerated people, around 150 of whom are still at Angola. The suit said the work is especially dangerous for those with disabilities or health conditions in the summer months, with temperatures reaching up to 102 degrees in June, with heat indexes of up to 145. Some of the plaintiffs have not been given the accommodations and services they are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it said. The men are asking the court to declare that forcing them to do the work is unconstitutional and to require the state to end its generations-long practice of compulsory agricultural labor. (Albert Woodfox spent 43 years in solitary confinement at Angola.)

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