Inmates Sue State Over Prison Labor Program

On the 12th of December, a federal lawsuit was initiated by both present and former inmates of the Alabama State Prison. They allege that the state’s prison labor program is in violation of the U.S. and Alabama constitutions, asserting that it resembles a contemporary manifestation of slavery.

The legal complaint, endorsed by labor unions, contends that Alabama accumulates more than $450 million each year through compulsory labor. It further asserts that fast-food companies and various private corporations derive benefits from an illicit scheme exploiting labor.

The intended class-action lawsuit seeks to eradicate a confined labor source for the state and seeks compensation for both present and former prisoners for incurred damages. The lawsuit identifies Alabama’s Attorney General, Steve Marshall, and the state governor, Kay Ivey, along with officials from Alabama’s corrections and parole, as defendants.

During a press conference held on Tuesday, Janet Herold, the attorney representing the plaintiffs and legal director of the legal aid organization Justice Catalyst Law, characterized the prison work programs as a modern iteration of the convict-leasing system that arose after the Civil War, serving as a substitute for slavery.

Furthermore, the governor’s office did not issue an immediate response to the lawsuit on Tuesday. The plaintiffs, which include the Union of Southern Service Workers, two labor groups, and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, claim that the state’s parole system unjustly confines Black prisoners to low-wage or unpaid positions.

Lakiera Walker, a participant in the legal proceedings, revealed that she served a 15-year prison sentence starting in 2007. Throughout this period, she worked on a county road crew, earning $2 a day while stationed in a private meat company’s warehouse. Walker emphasized that prisoners who chose not to work were subjected to segregation.

As per prison organizers, the state of Alabama’s prison conditions deteriorated following the lawsuit. In the past year, numerous incarcerated workers within the state initiated a strike, citing grievances about substandard living conditions and an alarmingly low parole release rate of only 10%. 

The lawsuit brought forth by the inmates asserts that Alabama violated constitutional rights and contravened the expressed wishes of voters by compelling them to work against their will.




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