Inmates Sue State Over Prison Labor Program

( – On Tuesday, December 12th, both current and past inmates at the Alabama State Prison filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the state’s prison labor scheme violates the U.S. and Alabama constitutions, describing it as a “modern-day form of slavery.”

The complaint, supported by labor unions, alleges that Alabama generates over $450 million annually through forced labor and that fast food companies and other private corporations benefit from an illegal “labor exploitation scheme.”

The proposed class-action lawsuit aims to eliminate a “captive labor source” for the state and compensate both current and past prisoners for damages. It names Alabama’s Attorney General, Steve Marshall, and the state governor, Kay Ivey, alongside officials from Alabama corrections and parole, as defendants.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Janet Herold, the plaintiffs’ lawyer and legal director of the legal aid group Justice Catalyst Law, described the prison work programs as a contemporary version of the convict-leasing system that emerged after the Civil War, replacing slavery.

Moreover, the governor’s office did not provide an immediate response to the lawsuit on Tuesday. The plaintiffs, including the Union of Southern Service Workers, two labor groups, and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, allege that the state’s parole system unfairly confines Black prisoners to low-wage or unpaid jobs.

Lakiera Walker, one of the individuals taking legal action, shared that she spent 15 years in prison from 2007. During this time, she worked on a county road crew for $2 a day in a private meat company’s warehouse. She pointed out that prisoners who didn’t work were placed “in segregation.”

According to prison organizers, the condition of Alabama’s prisons worsened after the lawsuit. Last year, several incarcerated workers in the state went on strike, protesting poor living conditions and the significantly low parole release rate, which is only 10%. The inmates’ lawsuit claims that the state of Alabama violated constitutional rights and went against the voters’ wishes by compelling them to work, regardless of their will.

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