Incarcerated workers at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, have filed a class-action lawsuit against the prison warden, Department of Corrections representatives and Prison Enterprises. They claim that they have been subjected to inhumane labor conditions while working on the prison’s 18,000-acre farm.
“This labor serves no legitimate penological or institutional purpose. It’s purely punitive, designed to ‘break’ incarcerated men and ensure their submission.”
Represented by the advocacy organizations Promise of Justice Initiative and Rights Behind Bars, the plaintiffs are asking the court to find their forced labor unconstitutional and demand an end to this generations-long practice of compulsory agricultural labor within the prison system.
Prison enterprises and prison profits
In their own words, Prison Enterprises is “a unique blend of business and government providing a public service” and offers “quality products and services to our customers at competitive prices.”
They sell goods such as furniture, uniforms, bedding, and cleaning products – all made by incarcerated persons – to government agencies and nonprofits. In fiscal year 2021 – 2022, total sales amounted to over 29 million dollars for Prison Enterprises.
Inhumane working conditions
Meanwhile, according to a report by the University of Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the average incarcerated worker in Louisiana receives around 2 to 40 cents per hour.
What’s worse, as is made clear in this suit, workers are made to labor in difficult conditions and mistreated if they refuse to work – even if they are physically unable to do so.
Forced labor allegations in Louisiana’s prison system are widespread. Incarcerated people in Louisiana are forced to perform physically demanding tasks such as hoeing, weeding, and manual crop picking at gunpoint on former slave plantations – even when temperatures rise to 100 degrees and higher.
The Associated Press reports,
The suit said the work is especially dangerous for those with disabilities or health conditions in the summer months, with temperatures reaching up to 102 degrees in June, with heat indexes of up to 145.
Some of the plaintiffs have not been given the accommodations and services they are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it said.
These men are forced to work “notwithstanding their increased risk of illness or injury,” the suit said.
The ACLU reports that incarcerated farm workers have collapsed from exhaustion or dehydration while working in the fields on hot days.
Join the movement
Last year, more than 790,000 voters in Louisiana decided to keep the constitutional language in the 13th Amendment that allows slavery as punishment – but over 508,000 Louisianans voted to remove it. Though the motion failed, Louisiana advocates say they’re going to bring the issue back for the next election.
This year, advocates in several other states are gearing up to make change happen to outlaw slavery explicitly once and for all. We’re right there with them supporting state-level action while moving towards a federal change to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.