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Arizona Jail Slave Labor Used to Stuff Ballot Envelopes

Prisoners at the Maricopa County Jail (home of "America's Meanest Sheriff") were used to stuff 400,000 envelopes with ballots for early voting in the 1998 elections. Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said that jail inmates received community service credit in lieu of wages and the guards assigned to supervise the operation were paid overtime wages by the Elections Department.

"We're still going to save more than $125,000," Osborne told the Arizona Republic . She said that help wanted notices were widely circulated and no more than a dozen "free" people applied for the onerous task of stuffing 400,000 envelopes. She said it was the Sheriff's idea to use prisoners.

Maricopa County Democratic Party Chairman David Eagle was sharply critical of the operation. "Some inmate might memorize a name and address that he shouldn't see," he said.

Eagle initially characterized the operation as slave labor. But, after he visited the operation he retracted that criticism. As reported in the Arizona Republic : "...any notion of 'slave labor' was erased when he [Eagle] saw the inmates line up every hour for soda pop and cookies."

But Eagle remained steadfast in his opposition to the operation.

"A Felony inmate who has no civil rights shouldn't have anything to do with something so sacred to our democracy as the ballot," Eagle said. "They shouldn't even be doing grunt work in an election.

Arizona Republic

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