The recent Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted systemic racial injustice that exists in the United States. As a result, government relations with prisons have been under increased scrutinization. Governments, state and local, have a history of leasing out their prisoners to other government departments and private institutions for an extremely low pay. Tasks for prisoners include agricultural work, manufacturing, and sanitation.
Here in GovDirection’s home state of Georgia, the consolidated city and county of Athens-Clarke County is in talks to lease some of its inmates to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Documents obtained from an April 7 mayor & commissioner regular session detail a program that would reimburse the Athens-Clarke County Department of Corrections for inmates and a correctional officer to clean litter off of GDOT-owned roadways. It is estimated to be worth about $304K over three years. The agreement has been put on hold as negotiations for inmate pay continue.
Some have called the use of prison labor unethical and claim it is slavery or indentured servitude. The work done by inmates is often forced. Why force them to do work that nonprofits and private corporations will gladly do? Governments typically pay less than a dollar per hour, and private entities simply cannot compete with this kind of cheap labor. However, contracts similar to the Athens agreement are available all the time and in plentiful numbers.
Recent demonstrations in Athens and around the world have led us to reexamine the criminal justice system and what is deemed just. This could be the beginning of the end of inmate labor which could further increase demand for government contracting.
About the Author
Grant Sarver is from Suwanee, Georgia. He is currently an undergraduate pursuing Bachelor’s degrees in International Affairs and Sociology at the University of Georgia with an expected graduation in December 2020. He is most interested in human rights and social equality and plans to work for an entity that helps fulfill people’s human rights.