Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Detainees Charge "Slave Labor" at Detention Centers


One of the many dirty little secrets about ICE jails is that, depending on the facility, much or all of the work done to keep them going -- from handing out uniforms to buffing the floors to cleaning the toilets to baking the bread -- is being done for $1/day by the people who are locked up.

I've been planning on writing up my research on this topic for quite some time, including posting the response to my request under the Freedom of Information Act for the dollar amounts paid by the various facilities to these detainees.  It took over a year for ICE to respond to my request.   And then it took me several months to catch up to this piece of my research but at the instigation of a reporter I'm posting this response now and will provide more of the background research later.

In brief: the ICE jails are paying people $1/day for work that minimum wage laws would require compensated at  $29 - $58/day.   ICE bills this as a "volunteer work program" but nothing in this program fits the definition of this under federal employment law, including that people volunteer for a cause based on "humanitarian" reasons.  The prisoners are doing this work so that they can buy food and hygiene products.  If they don't have relatives on the outside to pump up their commissary accounts then they'll buff floors, as did U.S. citizen Mark Lyttle.  If they do, then, as "kidnapped Canadian Kenneth Danard" told me, they won't do this "slave labor."

The colossal "savings" from paying people a small fraction of the legal wage makes possible these centers.  How much exactly is being saved?  Here are the reports verbatim: you do the math.

Below is an excerpt for the monthly payments from just one detention center.  Each dollar is a day's payment's to one detainee, so July 2009 at 5,815 = 5815 individual days or shifts of labor.  Not all of the shifts are 8 hours but they go up to that.  If the range of hours worked for this example is 4 - 8 hours day, then the payments that should have been made for July 2009 under federal minimum wage laws would be $168,635 to $337,000.  Again, what actually was paid was $5,815.

Varick Detention Center, 201 Varick Street, Fourth Floor, NYC



(Actually, I will be writing more about the policy's history and why it is unconstitutional: in brief, the 13th amendment exempts prisoners from slave labor but it does not exempt people who are being held pending a hearing before an immigration judge.)


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