Activists and state legislators are calling for a minimum wage for incarcerated individuals in New York, who currently earn between 10 and 65 cents per hour of work.
Many have described the current situation as modern slavery, pointing to how the state benefits financially from the work carried out by people in state prisons.
Just $3 per fortnight for two jobs
The proposed bill would introduce a minimum wage for people working in prisons. It is currently in committee phase, from where it has failed to progress in previous years.
But experiences of people like Latif Shamsuddin show how greatly needed this bill is. Shamsuddin is incarcerated in New York and works two jobs as a porter and a teaching assistant. For his hard work, he earns just $3 every two weeks. New York’s minimum wage is $15 per hour.
What’s more, Shamsuddin says that wages are routinely docked, including for gate money, child support, restitution, and fines, making this meager salary entirely negligible.
In a recording from New York NOW, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, who is sponsoring the bill, speaks to the urgent nature of this legislative change, saying:
Our government is abusing New Yorkers, allowing slave labor and involuntary servitude for incarcerated people.
How does the state benefit financially from prison labor?
Bill sponsors say that New York is unfairly profiting from the work of incarcerated people. Indeed, local government routinely grants contracts to Corecraft (the company that “employs” imprisoned people) for products and services ranging from office supplies and road signs to call center operations.
One striking example occurred in March 2020, when New York state struggled to supply enough hand sanitizer. Then-Governor Cuomo began exploiting prison labor to produce hand sanitizer on the cheap. The initial shortage of hand sanitizer in the state of New York was addressed through the production of 11 million bottles. Incarcerated people were only paid between 10 to 65 cents per hour for their work.
Call for the abolition of slavery for all
Slavery is currently still legal in New York and across most states due to an exception clause in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment outlaws slavery except as punishment for a crime, leaving incarcerated people across the country at risk of enslavement and exploitation.
The Freedom United community is calling on states across the U.S. to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime and to stop profiting from forced labor. Join us today!