Monday, March 6, 2017

Living wages and privately-owned prisons

This is a follow-up to my 2015 post, Living wages and family-owned tilapia suppliers." The previous post documented how Quixotic Farming used prison labor - paid between 74 cents an hour to 4 dollars an hour.

But actually, I got it wrong in that post. Re-reading the material that I quoted in the post, it turns out that the prisoners were paid between 74 cents a DAY to 4 dollars a DAY.

So much for Empoprises qualtiy control.

Fast-forward to 2017 to a new story that (a) involves prisoners, and (b) takes place in Colorado. But this time, the prison is privately run.

Here are the allegations, according to a Washington Post story:

At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract with ICE. The Florida-based corporation runs facilities to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court.

The lawsuit, filed against GEO Group on behalf of nine immigrants, initially sought more than $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow substantially given the case’s new class-action status....

The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims, six detainees are selected at random every day and are forced to clean the facility’s housing units.

The other side claims that there is no violation of the law here.

GEO Group has strongly denied the lawsuit’s allegations and argued in court records that pay of $1 a day does not violate any laws.

“We intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims,” GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez said in a statement. “The volunteer work program at immigration facilities as well as the wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government....

Under ICE’s Voluntary Work Program, detainees sign up to work and are paid $1 a day. The nationwide program, ICE says, “provides detainees opportunities to work and earn money while confined, subject to the number of work opportunities available and within the constraints of the safety, security and good order of the facility.”

According to the Post story, proponents of the suit say that the work violates the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. But in this Google Plus thread, another legal precedent was cited - the Thirteenth Amendment.


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Note that the people in question are detainees who have NOT been convicted; therefore, the provision of the Thirteenth Amendment does not apply.

I'll grant that a lot of this rests on he said, he said. The suers claim that if the detainees don't clean, they're threatened with solitary confinement. The suees claim that this is all voluntary.

But what of the minimum wage brouhaha raised by the tilapia issue of 2015 and the ICE issue this year? Well Colorado Minimum Wage Order 30 (PDF) defines an "employer" as follows.

every person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, receiver, or other officer of court in Colorado, and any agent or officer thereof, of the above-mentioned classes, employing any person in Colorado, except that the provisions of this order shall not apply to state, federal and municipal governments or political sub-divisions thereof, including; cities, counties, municipal corporations, quasimunicipal corporations, school districts, and irrigation, reservoir, or drainage conservation companies or special districts organized and existing under the laws of Colorado.

So one could argue that the inmates who were building fish tanks for Quixotic Farming would be exempt from the Colorado minimum wage law, since the order specifically excluded state agencies. (And, as noted above, convicted people are also exempted from the protections of the Thirteenth Amendment.)

It should also be noted that the listed exceptions to the minimum wage order do not exclude prisoners (although taxi cab drivers don't have minimum wage protection in Colorado).

But are the ICE detention centers part of the federal government, or are they private companies who would be subject to Colorado minimum wage laws? Well, private prisons are subject to public records requests, just like a government agency.
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