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New York Voters Okay Prison Slave Labor for Nonprofits

New York voters have approved an amendment to the New York constitution that permits state and county prisoners to work “voluntarily” for nonprofit organizations.

The amendment was largely sought in order to provide an air-tight defense to potential lawsuits surrounding the practice.

Non-profit organizations, according to the amendment, are defined as “an organization operated exclusively for religious charitable or educational purposes, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”

In spite of the amendment’s passage, it is unlikely many prisoners will be doing work for non-profits anytime soon due to budgetary constraints facing the New York Department of Corrections (DOC).

Communities that used to rely on prison labor to clean parks, cemeteries and other places are being hit hard because of the decrease in work crews.

“The cemeteries aren’t getting done. They’re not being raked and cleaned. I don’t have the staff. That’s going to have to be done in the spring. It’s going to be much harder if we don’t get it done now,” said Kirklin Woodcock, Highway Superintendent for Mount McGregor. Only state-run sites, such as the Saratoga Spa State Park, are receiving work crews.

“We went from 207 crews statewide in October 2008, just prior to the first round of prison consolidations, to 93 crews statewide as of now,” said Erik Kriss, a spokesperson for the DOC.

The DOC claims to have saved $11 million by cutting back on community work programs. Each crew must have one guard, and there are transportation and vehicle maintenance costs, too. While the prisoners are paid a pittance for their labor, the guards who supervise them are well paid.

Crews are made up of prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences. Crew participants receive $1.05 a day for their labor. Their cheap slave labor displaces non prisoner members of the community who would otherwise be able to earn at least the minimum wage, thus further driving down the wages of non prisoners.


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