NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York State may once again allow prison inmates to work for private companies.
The proposal would provide incarcerated New Yorkers with the opportunity to gain private sector job skills, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said. But prison reform advocates worry incarcerated people may be used as inexpensive labor.
Vidal Guzman knows about the work conditions inside New York State prisons firsthand. Guzman made 16 cents an hour for his work when he was incarcerated, he said.
“I worked hard,” Guzman, now a prison reform advocate, said. “I worked 40 hours.”
Guzman rallied Tuesday against the proposal clearing the way for New Yorkers in prison to be employed by private companies. He said he used to make around $3.50 for a week of work.
Legal Aid Society paralegal Jacalyn Goldzweig recently wrote an op-ed article sounding the alarm about the state’s potential return to private prison labor, saying incarcerated people are not given the same workplace protections as other New Yorkers
“Over 31,000 people who are incarcerated in New York State are forced to work under the threat of punishment, which can include solitary confinement,” Goldzweig said.
In laying out her budget priorities earlier this year, Gov. Hochul proposed a jails to jobs plan, which would allow New Yorkers in prison to work for private companies. The jobs would be voluntary and wages would be competitive, she said. The governor’s office stressed the plan would give incarcerated people critical job experience to prepare them for life after prison.
Donna Hylton, who spent 27 years in New York State prison, said she was skeptical. She spoke out at Tuesday’s rally.
“You’re getting labor off the backs of people and thinking that it’s OK,” Hylton said.
More than a century ago, back in 1894, New York banned the use of inmate labor for private gain. Hochul is now pushing to change the New York State constitution as part of the ongoing state budget negotiations.
“Governor Hochul’s executive budget includes bold initiatives to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our future, and we look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to finalize a budget that serves all New Yorkers,” a spokesperson said.