Man forced to work in jail laundry while awaiting trial sues for "slavery"


95 Responses to “Man forced to work in jail laundry while awaiting trial sues for "slavery"”

  1. Jeremy says:

    I feel like alleging slavery is kind of ludicrous and will probably make people more willing to dismiss his case, but I think I agree – making someone who has not yet been proven guilty do prison labor is wrong.

    • Conan Librarian says:

      Why is it ludicrous? Colorful maybe, but ludicrous?

      • Jeremy says:

        I guess I just have kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the use of slavery as a metaphor, along the lines of when people invoke Hitler in internet arguments. Slavery to me conjures up the ideas of more than just forced labor, but the entire system (race, oppression, generations in bondage, etc.)

        • EH says:

          What about this case is metaphor? Seems pretty actual to me.

        • Sagodjur says:

           While it certainly doesn’t amount to the same as the “big S” version of slavery that we think of, it does fall under one of the dictionary definitions of slavery, specifically being forced into labor. The important question of course is whether or not the scenario falls under the legal definition of slavery.

          But also, the fulfillment of Godwin’s Law does not mean that the person invoking Hitler to make an argument is automatically wrong anymore than an argument is wrong because some of the words the person uses are misspeeled.

          • Petzl says:

            It might be worse than “big S” slavery, depending on the prison: forced gender-segregated servitude, forced imprisonment, forced labor, forced rape, greatly increased chance of contracting AIDS/TB, no possibility of escape, isolation-induced dementia.

        • Tynam says:

          Slavery has been a problem for the whole of human history.  And the oppression is very real.  (Prolonged solitary confinement causes brain damage.  If “do what we say at the wages we say or suffer permanent injury” isn’t slavery, what is?)  Slavery never happens without a brutal system behind it… just not the specific system you were thinking of.

          (And the race issues you’re thinking of are totally relevant here. Hint: which racial groups are disproportionately represented in American prisons?)

          • abstract_reg says:

            I think you will find “Slavery never happens without a brutal system” is a tautology.

        • jhoosier says:

           If it helps, think of  “slavery” and “chattel slavery”.

        • Bodhipaksa says:

          What you’re doing it taking one of the most egregious forms of slavery and seeing it as the standard form of slavery. 

          One of my ancestors was a slave in Africa. He was a white trader who was captured by Arab pirates and forced to do menial labor. He eventually got a letter smuggled back home and his family purchased his freedom. That doesn’t fit the racial or multigenerational type of slavery you’re taking as a benchmark for the use of the word slavery, but he was a slave nonetheless.

        • Mordicai says:

          What, like some…huge state-sponsored institution that disproportionately arrests people on the basis of race– often on trumped up charges– & then coerces them into sweatshop labor?

          I mean, listen, at some point you have to take Godwin aside & be like “listen, I know this sounds intense but also maybe having for-profit prisons that lock up people of colour to make money & then lobby to make terrible laws that let you lock up more people of colour to make more money…maybe this is a real actual literal comparison & not hyperbole?”

        • dolo54 says:

          You know who else invoked Godwin’s Law? That’s right, THE NAZIS!!!

    • GoatLordMessiah says:


    • austinhamman says:

       hmm…it’s tricky. it would be wrong to say he was a slave in the same sense as Africans were slaves (i mean he wasnt considered property, and if he had kids i dont think the state would sell them. i dont know if he was beaten) about the only overlap would be the fact that he was forced into labour and he didnt have his freedom.
      i think being owned as property is the main quality that makes one a slave, and in that respect he was not a slave. however he is forced into labour, he has his freedom and autonomy removed, and may or may not have been made to work through violence or threat thereof (its not unheard of but i dont want to claim that is the case here) so he is at least an indentured servant(though an involuntary one)

      • EH says:

        Solitary confinement has been proven to cause insanity, so yes, there was a threat of violence.

        • austinhamman says:

          strange, i would probably OPT for solitary confinement. i dont have any desire to socialize in prison, just lock me in a cell maybe give me a book or two (not a must i can just entertain myself) and im fine. like my current life but with a lot less internet. also i’ll let em know if they dont give me a notebook i WILL write on the walls in my own blood(sometimes you HAVE to write an idea down, if that means writing on the wall like a crazy person so be it)

          then again im probably already a good ways towards insanity anyways so…whatever.

          • Tynam says:

            Solitary confinement != having enough books to read and a notebook when you want one.  You can’t “let ‘em know” anything, because the guard will not be listening to you.  And nobody survives prolonged deprivation of human contact undamaged; we’re social animals.

            (Solitary is used especially in the worst prisons.  So it’s significantly worse than being locked in a box with the most brutal criminals available.  Pause, and consider this.)

          • austinhamman says:

             no im saying, i dont have an issue with being locked alone in a room for days, weeks, or months on end and would in fact prefer it to being locked with other people. the book was just to make it a little better, the notebook was just so i didnt have to write on the wall with my blood, feces, or whatever i could find to write on the wall (since i like to write things down when i think of them and would likely spend the time in deep reflection)
            maybe im just already damaged enough to not care.

          • Brainspore says:

            strange, i would probably OPT for solitary confinement. i dont have any desire to socialize in prison, just lock me in a cell maybe give me a book or two (not a must i can just entertain myself) and im fine.

            Don’t be so sure until you’ve actually tried it. It’s not just a matter of “not socializing with other prisoners,” it’s pretty much a complete absence of contact with the outside world involving long-term sensory deprivation. I wouldn’t count on that notebook or personal library, either.

          • kenmce says:

            i would probably OPT for solitary confinement…

            : just lock me in a cell maybe give me a book or two…

            :(not a must i can just entertain myself) and im fine

            :… also i’ll let em know if they dont give me a notebook i WILL write on the walls in my own blood


            Know how I can tell that you’ve never been inside?

          • Brainspore says:

            @boingboing-60ce36723c17bbac504f2ef4c8a46995:disqus :

            Know how I can tell that you’ve never been inside?

            What, just because austinhamman seems to think solitary confinement would be like Henry David Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond?

          • Ronald Pottol says:

            How much have you tried? When broke and unemployed, I found that I needed a little face time, just going out to a cafe, having a cup of coffee, and reading in public for an hour or two was enough, but I really did need to do that daily.

          • Funk Daddy says:

            “no im saying, i dont have an issue with being locked alone in a room for days, weeks, or months on end and would in fact prefer it to being locked with other people. the book was just to make it a little better, the notebook was just so i didnt have to write on the wall with my blood, feces, or whatever i could find to write on the wall (since i like to write things down when i think of them and would likely spend the time in deep reflection)
            maybe im just already damaged enough to not care.”

            Unlikely in the extreme.

            You may not have an issue with it when it is merely a mental dalliance and you may not even have an issue with it if it were your impending irrevocable fate, but after x amount of said time and forever afterward, you would have a serious issue with it.

            Go into the desert for a week, true wild, not tourist desert. There are still places where you can know you will see no one if you want. In a week you will feel rested, relaxed and enhanced (if you brought the right gear and enough water) and dying to talk to someone, in a good way.

            Now then, that done, go lock yourself in a 8′x10′ featureless box with notebook for 6 weeks. 

            Odds are you would not bear well reading that notebook afterward.

          • C W says:

            “i would probably OPT for solitary confinement.”

            That wouldn’t last very long.

          • Petzl says:

            Quoth the man who has no possible idea of the reality of what real prison or real isolation is like.

      • Buddha Buck says:

        The amendment in question bans both slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, and conviction is required for that exception.

        If the facts of this case are as described, then it seems a pretty clear case of involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime he was never convicted of.

        • austinhamman says:

          my post wasnt taking that mater to point as much as the question of whether slavery is the correct term to use. involuntary servitude is a fine term.

          • catgrin says:

            “Indentured” implies that a contract of some some form (however imbalanced) has been reached. “Indentured servants” were contracted to work for a set period of time (when referring to early newcomers to America, the general length of time was seven years). It wasn’t a good thing, far from it, and they were little better than slaves, but they knew the end date and scope of their servitude. McGarry wasn’t offered a contract, but a threat.

            “Servitude” itself IS compulsory service, often such as is required by legal penalty. Note that in this case, no judgement had been issued against Finbar McGarry, and in our legal system, we’re supposed to be operating under the assumption that people are innocent until proven guilty. That means they should not become part of the workforce. Mr. McGarry was not being treated as an indentured servant, as there was no contract (a forced contract = no contract) and the service he was providing should not have been required of him.

            I do understand your problem with the loaded term “slave.” In its simplest form, “slavery” implies ownership by a master. You might have preferred the term “bondage” which actually means “a state of subjugation or captivity often involving burdensome and degrading labor.” While it has taken on a pleasing sexual undertone, that may be the most appropriate term for the situation that McGarry was left in. He was dominated by threat into action against his will.

            (I’ve used for my reference material because it’s openly accessible. I hope you’re okay with that.)


      • miasm says:

        chattel-fodder for the prison-industrial complex.
        slave-property if ever I heard it.

      • Ken Breadner says:

        I think in a very real sense he *was* considered property. If you have no freedom and must perform menial tasks for essentially no pay, you’re a slave by my definition, anyway.

      • kenmce says:

        (in response to austinhamman)

        >i think being owned as property is the
        >main quality that makes one a slave,

        I have the impression that you are confusing slavery as practiced in the American south with slavery in general.  The American “style” of slavery was only one minor subset of a much greater practice. 

        The details vary considerably depending on when and where you lived. If I understand correctly, he was seized, dragged off in chains, made a prisoner,  and threatened with pain and misery if he did not do their work for them.

        Sounds slavelike to me.

        >he is at least an indentured
        >servant(though an involuntary one)

        I must beg to differ.  An indentured servant is trading their future service for an immediate reward.  It is a voluntary (usually voluntary) business transaction.

      • abstract_reg says:

        I think being forced to do work you don’t want to is the main quality that makes one a slave. If you can’t walk away with out fear of physical or mental punishment, you are a slave.

      • C W says:

        “it would be wrong to say he was a slave in the same sense as Africans were slaves (i mean he wasnt considered property, and if he had kids i dont think the state would sell them. i dont know if he was beaten) ”

        You should really look more into the prison-industrials. They don’t sell the kids, but the parents are most certainly property.

    •  I kinda agree, but at the same time…I used to work as a translator for a criminal defense attorney, and in that capacity, I got to visit a lot of interesting jails and prisons–and people in them. Most of the people that I talked with wanted to do some job or other, largely because it looks “good” on their records when they are seeking parole/probation or change in terms of imprisonment (max to min security, weekend furloughs, etc.), but also because it gets them out of their cells more than not working would. I think that most of those jobs pay something, which they can use toward their commissary accounts, unless part of it is required to go toward repaying the state, county, or district of which they are a guest for their room and board.

      Even though I do agree, Jeremy, I think we end up coming back to the issue of what we should “do” with people in jails and prisons. In one way, it seems wrong to say, get up and work this or that prison job, but it also seems wrong to me to say, well, okay, sit on your butt for the next 20 years to life and do nothing. I’m not entirely sure what I would suggest to satisfy the legal, moral, and ethical requirements of this situation.

      Very interesting article and discussion.



      • Tynam says:

        Providing the option to work, at a reasonable wage (not to be less than the minimum wage!) is a good idea leading towards rehabilitation.

        Requiring work, or allowing those who benefit from the work to set the wage, is not only slavery but adds a monstrous moral hazard to the situation.  (Consider… if the state and major businesses make a profit on prison labour… what’s their incentive to prevent miscarriage of justice?  Or not to deliberately cause them?  It’s already happened.)

        • Finnagain says:

           Work will set you free, or so I’ve heard.

        • bcsizemo says:

           Providing the option to work, at a reasonable wage (not to be less than the minimum wage!)

          Why not less than minimum wage?  If I (on the outside) make minimum wage I still have to pay taxes, pay for rent, pay for food, pay to live.  On the inside they are getting food and shelter on the tax payers tab.

          Now in terms of being “leased” out to companies to do work, then yes the companies should be paying the prison at least minimum wage.  Much like a temp agency, the worker only gets a percentage of the actual money paid by the company they are working for.

          • Funk Daddy says:

            Because paying anyone anywhere less than minimum wage erodes minimum wages everywhere, to start. 

            Minimum wage is about providing a living wage (though it can fail) but minimum wage is also about establishing, maintaining, raising or lowering the currency value of all labour.

          • Funk Daddy says:

            A second reason is because without a conviction the presumption is innocence, thereby the room and board provided in pre-trial incarceration is something the individual is entitled to as a citizen, or as some people call it these days, a taxpayer. 

          • The Chemist says:

             What makes you think prisoners don’t pay rent?

            It depends on the prison, but some prisoners are required to pay from what funds they have until they are exhausted. 

            In addition to Funk Daddy’s valid point (why would they give jobs to people like you if they can pay pennies to a prison?) people who are incarcerated are… wait for it… incarcerated.

            You may have to manage your electric bill, but you control the damn light switches too. Also, the money they make is something on the order of 50 cents an hour- not exactly the real compensatory value of their “room and board”. The purpose of a prison, believe it or not, is not to break even on the backs of the prisoners.

            The purpose (so I’ve heard) is to rehabilitate inmates. Not to punish them, rehabilitate them. They don’t do that job very well, and I sense sending people out into the world with no job, no prospects, AND no savings is probably a contributing factor.

          • C W says:

            “Why not less than minimum wage? ”

            Because it directly encourages companies to lobby for unnecessary incarceration, for goodness’ sake. 

          • Petzl says:

            All the money the prisoners earn goes to paying for the prison. So the state and the prisons have a twisted incentive for keeping the prisons at or over capacity.

            Paying them minimum wage would remove this incentive and give the released or paroled prisoner a head-start towards paying the deposit on an apartment rental and getting work.

        • Funk Daddy says:

          I disagree that convicted prisoners should earn minimum wage. They meet the exception in the 13th amendment and are incarcerated punitively with the intent of rehabilitation (unless sentenced to life I suppose, but rehabilitating those make for better slave labour maybe?) 

          I believe depriving them of the right to minimum wage is legit as long as they are kept completely out of all other labour systems. Prison farms, factories, schools, kitchens, laundries, cleaning services, etc, so long as they only serve the separate system they are in.

          The rehabilitation is in learning that internally the value of one’s labour comes from within and is not strictly a monetary consideration. That’s the lesson they missed when learning it will better them. 

          But, since they are being mixed with what we must now call freeman labourers and competing with freeman laboureres, they must be paid minimum wage in some manner, or equal to whatever the freeman labourer is paid, even if they are not allowed to keep it all. 

          Whosoever benefits from their labour in any system outside prison-only applications must be compelled to value the labour appropriately.

          • The Chemist says:

            I disagree with that disagreement. It may be legal (see below as to why I think it isn’t), it is not moral. It’s still slavery. You want to tell me slavery is okay in this instance, fine. Don’t expect me to agree with you. Just know one thing, I am an abolitionist, and you are not.

            The rehabilitation is in learning that internally the value of one’s labor comes from within and is not strictly a monetary consideration.
            That’s the lesson they missed when learning it will better them.

            Who says? What qualifies you to diagnose the source of all criminality? Who says the lesson isn’t, “Don’t get caught with marijuana in a particularly stupid part of the US?” or “Don’t be too poor to afford a decent lawyer so you won’t have to resort to making pleas, because the public defender system in most places is broken.”

            I think it’s not legal. Here’s why: The 8th amendment. While the 13th is static, the 8th is fluid. What constitutes cruelty is a function of the times we live in. In a world where slavery has been outlawed virtually worldwide, and in an America of the 21st century, no slavery of any kind should be tolerated period.

          • Tynam says:

            I might agree with you… if it were remotely possible to keep their labour out of all other systems, serving only the one they are in.  Unfortunately, that is not remotely possible.  That is simply not how prison labour currently works.

            Labour is fungible.  Do you think the guards wash the laundry themselves?  Either the prisoners do it, or it is done by an outside contractor.  So the prisoners are in competition with the local labour market.  To permit them to be paid less than a fair wage is to permit everyone to be paid less – as you clearly understand.

            Not only is prison labour not restricted to prison, but in the US some entire industries are built on it.  Pause, and consider this.  There are entire industries in your economy that do not contribute to the economy, at all, because slave labour keeps them out of it.

          • Avram Grumer says:

            “as long as they are kept completely out of all other labour systems”

            Ever heard of Wickard v Filburn

        • ChicagoD says:

          I don’t like the idea of prisoners being farmed out to private industry. If that is going to be done the costs to private industry should be equivalent to the cost of hiring people who are not in jail.

          As for work in and for the prison or the state (the classic making license plates), IF you are duly convicted, prisons aren’t free to run, and the people in them ought to offset the cost of incarceration. Being in prison isn’t a job, it’s a punishment, so you don’t get treated like you have a job.

      • foobar says:

        If the state wants to charge them for room and board, they should have the option to seek other accommodations.

    • Boundegar says:

      Maybe “people” dismissing his case doesn’t matter.  What matters is the Supreme Court dismissing his case.  And this court seems to love them some Law-n-Order.

    • Ladyfingers says:

       I would argue that we are far too careful to call things slavery.

    • vinculture says:

      It is a clear violation of the 13th 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’.

      He wasn’t convicted, the exception in the Amendment does not apply.

      • Xof says:

        Yes, but of course careful legal scholars like Scalia and Thomas will find that the people who wrote the amendment surely meant that “convicted” included “ran afoul of the authorities.”

        • vinculture says:

          I’d expect something like that from Scalia. Thomas, maybe not so much, but I don’t know enough about him.

          • IronEdithKidd says:

            Thomas, it would appear, does whatever Scalia tells him to do. 

          • Petzl says:

             Not a fan of Scalia, mind you, but he’s been known to occasionally side with the liberal faction of the court in matters of civil liberties.  (Thomas doesn’t.)

    • benher says:

      Why, how dare those slaves complain! We even let some of them sleep in the house! 

      Where’s your empathy man, really. Jail fucking sucks and when you’re doing labor for the State, what is wrong with invoking words like Slavery or Fascism? 

      America fits into those shoes better each year.

    • Payne Hertz says:

      Forcing an innocent man to work for peanuts in brutal conditions is slavery. What else would you call it? It’s slavery when you make the guilty do it as well.

  2. fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

    It appears to be a footnote in this particular sordid tale; but isn’t solitary confinement ostensibly justified as something reserved for either menacing hard cases with ghastly disciplinary records and a penchant for violence, or prisoners so odious that the general population is deemed likely to shiv them at the first possible opportunity?

    Rather than, y’know, a guy who hasn’t even been to court yet and who(even if he had been demonstrated to have done something criminal on the outside) showed no evidence whatsoever of being a menace to himself or others in the standard section…

    • austinhamman says:

       solitary confinement is the only form of punishment jailors are allowed to give. they cannot deprive the prisoner of food, nor can they beat them (not that they DON’T only that they arent ALLOWED to) and a stern talking to is not likely to be effective. given that the prisoners dont really have anything they dont have anything to be deprived of, and thus the guards have no means to enforce compliance.

      • Brainspore says:

        Not true. Non-compliant prisoners can be punished by being deprived of privileges that are afforded to well-behaved prisoners. Extra time outside, coveted work shifts, library access, TV, that sort of thing.

        If the only means of discipline left at your disposal is “long-term social and sensory deprivation,” then that just means you’ve got a system with too many sticks and not enough carrots.

      • wysinwyg says:

        They can take their goddamn time bringing the prisoner food, though.  More importantly they can take their goddamn time bringing the prisoner water.  I think you’re underestimating the power inherent in holding someone in a cage against his or her will.

  3. John Smith says:

    Damn the Constitution. This country won’t be safe until every last citizen is incarcerated. 

    • Conan Librarian says:

      To keep you safe, they must first protect you from yourselves! And what better way then keeping you locked up? Nice and safe behind steel doors and thick walls.

    • BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

      Their working on it. 

    • GoatLordMessiah says:

      To use Judge Death’s thinking:  All crime is committed by the living, therefore life itself is a crime.

      • vinculture says:

        Well, you have to admit he has a point. It’s not profiling to point out that all crime is committed by people who are alive.

        It’s just common sense.

        • GoatLordMessiah says:

          In the comic “2000AD”, Judge Death removed all life on his world.
          You can’t say he’s soft on crime, but one should find a healthy gap between no law to everyone dead.

          It is sound logic though, can’t deny that. 

          >”all crime is committed by people who are alive.”
          Additionally, are A.I.s alive? Couldn’t a sufficiently intelligent computer (e.g. SHODAN) commit crimes, like fraud and other things that don’t require a physical body?

          Unless you’re referring exclusively to people, then what I wrote is pointless to what you wrote.

          • vinculture says:

            Hmmm, good point. If an AI reaches sentience and is aware of the consequences of its actions then I agree it could commit crimes and should be held responsible for them.

            My reference to ‘people’ is from what I remember of Judge Death’s backstory.

  4. Conan Librarian says:

    American’s obsession with Crime and Punishment has always fascinated me. From their TV shows, to the views that the guilty or alleged guilty should indeed suffer as much as possible, to their gun culture and cultural acceptance of torture of the ‘evil’, and prison rape  to ‘punish’ the wicked. While at the same time still burdened by the Puritanical mindset of sexual ‘immorality’.  It’s all so very primordial. 

  5. humanresource says:

    There’s nothing outlandish about using the term slavery.  Slavery has taken many forms down the years, in different civilizations, and some lucky slaves have held property or prestige, in ancient Rome and elsewhere. These odd instances don’t stop the institution being inhumane, and the fact that this man’s servitude was not as bad as the worst forms of slavery doesn’t let the prison off the hook.

    • Roger Strong says:

      A few years ago an American district attorney had just won in a Canadian court, the extradition to the US of a Canadian suspect.  Then the DA publicly told the Canadian that if he appealed the extradition, he would be raped repeatedly in the US prison once he got there.  So endeth the
      extradition proceedings.

  6. Marja Erwin says:

    Of course, without punitive conditions in pre-trial detention, how are the prosecutors supposed to extract the plea bargains?

  7. Sean Breakey says:

    Slavery is forcing someone to work.  Period.  Prison Labour is all technically Slavery.  The difference with this guy is that he was not convicted.  Further, throwing someone in The Hole, (isolation), without a valid reason, (like he’s going to hurt/kill others, or they are going to hurt/kill him), is technically Torture.

    Making his choice the difference between Slavery and Torture.  Most people don’t have a problem with Prison Labour, i.e. Slavery, as long as the person has been convicted, (except when it is used as an alternative to highering workers),

    but again, this guy was not convicted.  Even if the jail paid him minimum wage, it would still be slavery, because it was not his choice to do so.   Also, the threat of torture prevents him from providing any sort of consent.

    Just because it doesn’t have everything in common with black slavery back in the day means nothing, nevermind completely ignoring modern slavery, which isn’t legal in the West, but still happens, (and in some places is actually legal).

    • catgrin says:

      Unfortunately, no. “Slavery” ISN’T just defined as “forcing someone to work”. Slavery implies ownership of another human that is recognized by the law. What you’re defining is “bondage” – a very different thing. You can be held in bondage without truly being owned. An example of this would be sailors pressed into service by accepting pieces of eight while drunk. They’d be trapped on a ship with no place to go, and while still supposedly free men held under duress and forced into labor. 

      That’s bondage.

      • wysinwyg says:

         Great, semantics.  That’s really what’s important here, isn’t it?  Preserving the sanctity of the great and venerable word “slavery.”

        The guy’s situation seems to satisfy the definition given in Amendment XIII.  I wonder if, at the trial, the prosecution is going to say something like: “Objection, your honor!”  “On what grounds?”  “Etymology!”

        • catgrin says:

          Amendment XIII also abolishes “involuntary servitude” except for a crime that you have been convicted of. “Bondage” IS “involuntary servitude” without implied legal ownership. As there are people who do take offense to the misuse of the term “slavery” I’m just setting straight. Amendment XIII still does not allow the treatment that McGarry underwent. It separates the two concepts because they are not the same thing.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        An example of this would be sailors pressed into service by accepting pieces of eight while drunk.

        Or Moon Elves being pressed into service by Gremlins from the Vortex of Orion.

  8. n8zilla says:

    a lot of people commenting don’t seem to know what Amendment XIII says, so here it is:

    “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.”

    obviously, what was done to this guy was unconstitutional, given he was not “duly convicted.”

    • Brainspore says:

      Really it goes back to the fundamental concept of “due process” embodied in the Magna Carta. You can temporarily deprive someone of liberty prior to a formal trial, but not as a punitive measure. The ONLY purposes that pre-trial incarceration should serve are:

      1. Protect the public from a suspect who poses a likely threat, and
      2. Keep the suspect from skipping town before trial (assuming bail is not an option).

      As far as I’m concerned any measure that goes beyond those two concerns is punitive and unconstitutional.

      • catgrin says:

        What makes no sense is that people judged innocent are being held in overcrowded prisons, where they are more likely to encounter a population that may encourage future criminal behavior. 

        A large percentage of the people who are being held are simply poor. They aren’t guilty. The fact is that people who have little money right now are also having trouble keeping an address or a job. The court then decides that as renters with no stable income, they present a flight risk. Since they fail at that hurdle, they’re dropped into prison. 

        Most won’t risk a bail bond for two reasons. (1) Many have no collateral. (2) The high fee to pay back could create a situation where they would be in more financial trouble later. Since these are people already barely scraping by, they simply can’t afford it.

        Maybe what we need is legislation aimed at helping those who are first time offenders, with low income jobs, and renting. Maybe we need to be being more active about protecting people before they enter the system.


        I typed it, then I did a Google search. Guess what? On July 18, 2012, Governor Cuomo did as I just suggested. It’s not exactly the same, but: 

        “Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation that will allow the creation of charitable organizations in New York State which could post up to $2,000 in bail for low-income defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes.”


        • ChicagoD says:

          Yeah, there are also recognizance bonds (called I-bonds) for lots and lots of offenses in lots and lots of places. This addresses many of the issues you raised. No money is down, and you show up to court because it would not be worth it not to.

          This guy, on the other hand, allegedly threatened to kill his family, so no I-bond for him. The sole problem I see in this case is that he was compelled to do labor prior to conviction. If Vermont skates by with this it will be on some very unsatisfying technicality, like that they actually paid him, or something.

  9. AwesomeRobot says:

    I had no idea that pre-trial suspects were forced into prison labor; surprised this isn’t an issue more often, because it’s very clearly in violation of the constitution. 

  10. Another Kevin says:

    In the current political climate, would it surprise anyone if a judge were to rule that a subsequent conviction would make the pretrial forced labour lawful retroactively?

    • Lemoutan says:

      You mean that all the shitty things we have to put up with as we trudge our weary way through life will eventually become, retroactively, our just desserts? I suppose it works, mutatis mutandis, for all the nice things too.

      So there’s that.

  11. BombBlastLightingWaltz says:

    You think this is bad, try being married to my wife. She takes all the money I make and pays me an allowance. And she’s three weeks behind in payments. 

  12. Henry Pootel says:

    …America’s jails, where pre-trial prisoners who have not been convicted of any charge are forced into hard labor

    Any statistics on how frequent this is?  “sometimes are forced” is probably a better way to phrase that is my hunch.

  13. 65 comments (so far) and I seem to be the only one who thinks that this paragraph is as outrageous as the rest of the article: “A recent report by corrections expert Dr. James Austin, examining the jails of Los Angeles County (which suffer from notorious violence and overcrowding), found that upward of 1,000 inmates trapped in jail pre-trial posed little to no danger to the public—more than five percent of the county jail population. They were simply being held because they were too poor to pay for bail.”

    An even older amendment to the Constitution says, “Excessive bail shall not be required” – 8th Amendment, clause 1. Hundreds of years’ worth of law say that bail is supposed to be set high enough to make sure that the accused shows up for trial, but not so high that they can’t pay it under any circumstances. We’ve gotten into the bad habit, in America, of admitting that we can’t prove that someone is unsafe to release until their trial, but effectively denying them bail by setting a bail that we know they can’t make – an elegantly simple, but horrific and blatantly unconstitutional hack. It shows that we really don’t believe in innocent until proven guilty any more, which makes the rest of the story, punishment by forced labor before conviction, all the less surprising.

    • Finbar says:

      Brad- in my jurisdiction, they have a habit of charging individuals with a felony, holding them in prison with bail they can’t afford, then using that as leverage.  There was a couple charged with sexually assaulting the woman’s daughter.  During their third trial (no conviction in the first two trials) after they had been in pretrial detention for 3.5 years, they offered them each time served plus probation to plead no contest.  The woman pled no contest and was deported to her native England.  She is free.  Being on Vermont probation in England is a technicality.  The man was convicted and is doing 20 to life. 

  14. Ryan Lenethen says:

    Well you hear about people going to jail to “repay” their “debt” to society, so there is some expectation of that I think. However I think the root principle here is the guy wasn’t actually convicted of anything, and in the end was proven innocent (or the case was dissmissed anyway). So getting those folks waiting for trial (not yet proven guilty) it is wrong for the state to make them start “repaying their debt” when no debt as such exists (yet). At the VERY least the state should be responsible for paying him a very respectable wage for forcing him (more or less) to work. Make it prohibitaly high enough to discourage this sort of behavior.

  15. Finbar says:

    I drafted the pro se complaint from prison, and I used the term “involuntary servitude” exclusively, not the word slavery.  Most states keep detainees in county jails and convicts in state prisons.  Vermont is too small to have separate facilities.  Of 200 inmates (mostly convicts), only 30 were required to participate in what the State of Vermont described as a “rehabilitative labor program” at any one time.    I was required to do 10 to 14 hour laundry shifts washing the clothes of convicted rapists and murderers because I was charged with a crime (all charges were dismissed).  No distinction was made between detainees and convicts- this was an official policy, not an honest mistake.

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