Inmates Sue Alabama Over 'Modern-Day Slavery'

Current and former prisoners say the state is illegally profiting from their work
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 14, 2023 11:05 AM CST
Alabama Inmates Sue, Call Prison Labor 'Slavery'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images)

Current and former inmates announced a lawsuit this week challenging Alabama's prison labor program as a type of "modern-day slavery," saying prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay in jobs that benefit government entities or private companies. The class-action lawsuit also accuses the state of maintaining a discriminatory parole system with a low release rate that ensures a supply of laborers while also generating money for the state, per the AP. "The forced labor scheme that currently exists in the Alabama prison system is the modern reincarnation of the notorious convict leasing system that replaced slavery after the Civil War," said Janet Herold, the legal director of Justice Catalyst Law.

The Alabama Department of Corrections and the Alabama attorney general's office declined to comment on the lawsuit, which accuses the state of violating the equal protection clause of the US Constitution, anti-human trafficking laws, and the Alabama Constitution. The lawsuit contends the state maintains that "forced labor scheme" that coerces inmates into work. The suit said those jobs include unpaid prison jobs where inmates perform tasks that help keep the facilities running. Inmates in work release might perform jobs where businesses pay minimum wage or more, but the prison system keeps 40% of a prisoner's gross pay to defray the cost of their incarceration and also deducts fees for transportation and laundry services.

Almireo English, a state inmate, said trustworthy prisoners perform unpaid tasks that keep prisons running so that the prison administrators can dedicate their limited staff to other functions. "Why would the slave master by his own free will release men on parole who aid and assist them in making their paid jobs easier and carefree," English said. While the state didn't comment, it has previously maintained that prison and work release jobs prepare inmates for life after incarceration. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution ended slavery, but it still allows forced labor "as a punishment for crime." A report from American Civil Liberties Union research found that the average hourly wage for jobs inside prisons is about 52 cents. (More Alabama stories.)

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