Unpaid Inmate Labor: It’s not going away (yet)

Despite what you may have heard, funds to actually pay inmates for their labor in Athens, Georgia are not in the county budget, at least not yet. There is still time!

Let’s end unpaid inmate labor in Athens. Contact your commissioner!


So, we need to talk about inmate labor in Athens. Will you join me?

When slavery was abolished in America is 1865, the United States Congress created the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which essentially redefined the parameters of slavery. Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime. This clause has allowed Americans to continue to enslave black people and poor people for over 150 years.

Despite what you may have heard, funds to actually pay inmates for their labor are not in the budget, at least not yet.

So, let’s talk about that. Do we think inmates should be paid for their labor? Or should they be paid nothing?

First, let’s look at how many inmates we have working, and how many hours they work. And are we sure they’re not getting paid anything right now?

Unfortunately, yes. When I first heard about this, I didn’t believe it either. Or I thought maybe it was a few inmates every now and then picking up trash or something. I was wrong, take a look at this.

Maybe at some point this program was only an occasional thing, but it’s been increasing lately. The ACC Department of Corrections brags in the budget that “We provide a cost-efficient workforce” and they show that the number of work details more than doubled in the last few years. They calculate our return on investment from these workers and set a goal that it should “increase steadily.”

So, this isn’t just a few people picking up trash. This is an important and growing part of our county’s labor force. We profit off this labor in a couple ways.

First, we’re paid $20 a day by the state per inmate we take on, and that amounts to $1.1 million a year right now. And they work full time, with the total number of hours growing year after year. The top bar is the amount their labor would be worth, if we paid them for it. The county wants this number to keep growing.

It’s important to know that this is not standard practice in other states. Now, they’re not paid much outside Georgia, but they are paid something.

There are only 5 states that allow completely unpaid inmate labor. All of them are the south and were part of the confederacy. Three of them don’t have laws against discrimination in public accommodations. Another three just passed abortion bans. This isn’t a coincidence! These are some of the most regressive states in the nation.

I don’t want us to be a part of that! Do we really think that slavery is not an apt description of what’s going on here?

Of course, it’s not the same as slavery before the Civil War. But this is an institution that has changed throughout history and across cultures. It doesn’t always manifest in the same way. If you’re not allowed to leave, if you don’t have freedom and if you’re doing economically important labor and not being compensated for it…

Well, what other word is there?

Every time the prisoners have gone to court, seeking to be paid for their labor, seeking to be compensated for their labor, the court’s response is, “You’re slaves. You’re slaves of the state.” Those are the exact words of court after court after court for the last 120 years.

Commissioner Denson has a plan to eventually pay inmates $4 a day for their labor.

That’s not enough, of course, but it’s a start. It’s an important start and we have the money this year in the budget and we need to get it done. We need to stop the damage we doing first, and then we can think about how we can start to make things better.

So please, call or email your commissioner about this. The budget is still being tweaked, and changes can still be made. Now is the time to make our voices heard. You can find their contact info on my website, link’s in the description. Thanks for taking the time to listen and for being engaged.

Clips used in this video:
Are American prisoners modern day slaves – BBC

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *