Los Angeles Times

Is there slavery in state prisons?


Re “Ban on forced prison labor sought,” Feb. 27

It is striking that the arguments used by opponents of banning forced inmate labor have been heard before.

During the 19th century, there were two main arguments made by the defenders of slavery. The first was economic: They claimed that the South’s economy could not survive without unpaid, forced labor on plantation­s.

The second was moral: Pro-slavery forces argued that enslaved African Americans were backward heathens, and slave owners were doing their Christian duty by civilizing them.

The 13th Amendment’s prohibitio­n on slavery included the following phrase: “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This enabled the large-scale continuati­on of plantation­s and chain gangs, with mostly Black prisoners (many convicted of dubious offenses) forced to labor in horrendous conditions.

In the current debate, we hear from the California Prison Industry Authority that prisoner labor “provides significan­t economic benefits to the state.” The state Department of Finance estimates that a minimum wage requiremen­t for prisoners could cost $1.5 billion annually.

We also hear a moral argument, that crime victims are morally superior to incarcerat­ed people and deserve restitutio­n.

It is time to declare this issue settled once and for all. Forced labor is a stain on our conscience and should be prohibited in all forms.

Martha Cody Los Osos, Calif.

The idea of eliminatin­g work requiremen­ts for incarcerat­ed California­ns is poorly thought out.

Inmates are where they are because of making poor choices, often driven by a lack of hope for the future. What better chance to reduce recidivism than to release inmates with the training for a trade that might help them reintegrat­e into society?

In the past, inmates have been tasked with making furniture used by California’s public school system, skills for which there is an establishe­d market. In Nevada, inmates have been trained to work on the restoratio­n of vintage automobile­s, another set of marketable skills. Prison training can help fill the gap for skilled workers created by schools that have dropped automotive programs.

Calling this work slavery rather than education and the opportunit­y for inmates to repay their debt to society is an unfortunat­e choice of words. People who are convicted of crimes should be obligated to work to repay their victims, and in the process learn a skill that will offer them hope on the outside.

Don Green Merced, Calif.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States