Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, has proposed a method for building a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Hodgson has called for prison inmates from around the country to build the wall.
“I can think of no other project that would have such a positive impact on our inmates and our country than building this wall,” Hodgson, a Republican, said at his fourth-term swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 4, reports Reuters. “Aside from learning and perfecting construction skills, the symbolism of these inmates building a wall to prevent crime in communities around the country, and to preserve jobs and work opportunities for them and other Americans upon release, can be very powerful.”
But using inmates for labor has struck some as unethical — even illegal.
“The proposal is perverse, it’s inhumane and very likely unconstitutional,” said Laura Rotolo, staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “It certainly has nothing to do with helping prisoners in Massachusetts or their families. It’s about politics.”
However, Section 1 of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”
“Prisoners currently don’t fall under any fair labor standard practices or umbrellas,” Christopher Petrella, a prison labor abuse researcher at UC Berkeley told Salon. “So, often times, prisoners will get paid but they aren’t afforded the same protections as a worker outside of prison.”
These workers reportedly make no more than $2 an hour — far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
“There is virtually no constituency that really cares,” Petrella continued. “That’s a very sobering and tragic thing to say, but I think it’s actually true. Prisoners are often times disenfranchised. They can’t even vote. So, if they can’t even vote, then what kind of constituency exists that politicians can then lean on to make these sorts of decisions about how they want to move forward with reforming the system?”
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