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'Time to Stop Prison Slave Labor!' Brooklyn Pols Push for Prison Minimum Wage

Senator Myrie and Assemblymember Perry call for a dramatic wage increase for incarcerated workers and a continued push for criminal justice reform
Zellnor Myrie, BK Reader
Senator Myrie joined by by advocates and union members. Photo courtesy Office of State Senator Zellnor Myrie.

New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Nick Perry announced on Wednesday their plans to introduce "Prison Minimum Wage" act in both houses of the New York legislature, which would raise the minimum wage to $3.00 per hour. 

The two Brooklyn lawmakers were joined by the bill's cosponsors State Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos, criminal justice advocacy groups and labor unions.

"Incarcerated people are human beings," said Senator Myrie, who represents the 20th State Senate District including Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Prospect Heights. "They deserve to be treated with dignity and to share in the fruits of their labor. The fact that New York's incarcerated people contribute tens of millions of dollars in revenue to the state and haven't gotten a pay increase in more than a quarter century is unacceptable."

The majority of people held in NY State prisons are required to work six hours per day, five days per week. Like Lymus Rivera, a group facilitator of The Fortune Society, who was formerly incarcerated and working at a New York State prison, then earning a "maximum" of $0.16 per hour.

Inmates who work in New York prisons earn as little as $0.10 to $1.14 per hour for work ranging from cleaning to maintenance, Myrie said. They also manufacture a wide range of goods that are provided to municipal and state agencies — including desks, trash cans, furniture, textiles as well as every New York license plate — all for "Corcraft," which is the brand name for the state-run Division of Correctional Industries.

Yet, incarcerated people in state prisons have to pay for phone calls, stamps and other necessities that are essential to maintaining a connection with their family and their quality of life. 

Assemblymember Perry, who represents the 58th District including East Flatbush, as well as portions of Canarsie and Brownsville, said New York must stop the " exploitive practice of condoning prison slave labor and restore the human dignity of men and women serving time in our prison system."

"Their labor powers an industry in our state which generates upwards of $50 million, but the indignity and immorality of our continuous violation of the human rights of these persons in our prisons is debasing to us as a great state and nation that respects and values humanity," Perry added. 

Advocacy groups like The Fortune Society and the New York Civil Liberties Union applauded the efforts of the lawmakers.

"Fairer compensation acknowledges the dignity and value of the work of incarcerated people, and is a critical step toward realizing the promise of the 13th Amendment," said Erika Lorshbough of the NYCLU. "No New Yorker should go without adequate compensation for their labor simply because they are involved in the criminal justice system."

The bill was introduced to the Senate's Crime Victims, Crime And Correction Committee. If passed by the state legislature, the bill would mark the first raise for incarcerated people since 1993, and bring the prison minimum wage in line with four other states: Nevada, Alaska, Maine and Kansas.