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Is Inmate Labor Modern-Day Slavery?

Inmate firefighters from Oak Glen Conservation Camp are transported to a work assignment under the authority of Cal Fire which calls and treats them as firefighters rather than inmates while they are away from the minimum security prison on September 28, 2017 near Yucaipa, California.
DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images
Inmate firefighters from Oak Glen Conservation Camp are transported to a work assignment under the authority of Cal Fire which calls and treats them as firefighters rather than inmates while they are away from the minimum security prison on September 28, 2017 near Yucaipa, California.

Fighting wildfires in California is a tricky and dangerous job — and some make an average of just $2 a day to do it.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, low-level offenders in the California corrections system are put to work as firefighters, making an average of one dollar an hour.

As far as getting a job as a firefighter upon release from prison, most former inmates wouldn’t qualify for the job, even though they have key experience.

Labor practices like this motivated prison workers in 17 states across the country to plan a strike, in part, to protest underpaid or forced labor. The strike is planned for at least 21 days.

From a Vox explainer on the strike:

The inmates will take part in work strikes, hunger strikes, and sit-ins. They are also calling for boycotts against agencies and companies that benefit from prisons and prison labor.

“The main leverage that an inmate has is their own body,” Sawari said. “If they choose not to go to work and just sit in in the main area or the eating area, and all the prisoners choose to sit there and not go to the kitchen for lunchtime or dinnertime, if they choose not to clean or do the yardwork, this is the leverage that they have. Prisons cannot run without prisoners’ work.”

Should inmates be better compensated for their work? What kinds of jobs are prisoners on-call for? And what is the likelihood of this strike’s success?

Produced by Avery J.C. Kleinman. Text by Gabrielle Healy.

GUESTS

Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Author, “Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration”; Senior Fellow, Brennan Center’s Justice Program; @LBEisen

Sekwan Merritt, Former offender

Nicole Lewis, Reporting Fellow at the Marshall Project, a non-profit newsroom covering the criminal justice system; @nikki_lew

Bryan Stirling, Director, South Carolina Department of Corrections; @BryanStirling

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

© 2018 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Copyright 2018 WAMU 88.5

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