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How Much Is Boston Paying Prison Labor To Shovel Snow In Frigid Temps?

| by Michael Allen

Boston has reportedly endured close to 100 inches of snowfall this winter and is on its way to setting a local record.

After a storm on Sunday dropped 16 inches of snow, the subways and bus lines could only work on a limited schedule on Monday.

In response, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is offering temporary jobs for $30 an hour to clear the snow off the subway tracks.

The MBTA told CBS Boston that it already has about 50 inmates working the tracks in the frigid weather.

The City of Boston also uses inmates from the Suffolk County jail to clear snow off of sidewalks, handicapped ramps and fire hydrants.

“For the rest of this week, we’re going to have two crews out there throughout the neighborhoods,” Boston Inspectional Services Department Commissioner William “Buddy” Christopher told the Boston Herald's “Morning Meeting” radio show. “I wish we had more people, but we are getting the maximum number of inmates that we can get out. It’s a great program.”

A separate report by the Boston Herald notes that the city won't reveal what prisoners or union workers earn for shoveling snow.

According to the American Prospect, the average wage in state prisons is 20 cents an hour.

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State governments can pay this low wage because inmates are technically not considered "employees" per the law and do not have to be paid minimum wage, disability, worker’s compensation or overtime.

The American Prospect profiled one female inmate in Massachusetts who made $2 a day collecting inmates’ dirty food trays and putting them in a dishwasher. The highest-paying job reportedly pays $20 a day for stitching American flags for law enforcement.

“If our criminal-justice system had to pay a fair wage for labor that inmates provide, it would collapse,” Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News, told the American Prospect. “We could not afford to run our justice system without exploiting inmates.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has lobbied for years to get states to pass mandatory sentencing laws for non-violent offenders, and has pushed to make it easier for private companies to run prisons and use cheap inmate labor, noted The Nation.

Sources: American Prospect, CBS Boston, Boston Herald, The Nation
Image Credit: Michael Rivera