13th Forward Coalition Calls on Lawmakers to End Exploitation and Brutality Within Our Prison Labor System

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Press Releases

Rally and press conference held at the State Capitol urging the passage and support of the No Slavery in New York Act and the Fairness & Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act

(Albany, NY) – Today, members of the 13th Forward Coalition were joined by Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, SEIU 1199, advocates, legislative champions, and middle schoolers from the We Are Revolutionary “Legal Eagle” Middle School Program to urge lawmakers to expediently pass the No Slavery in New York Act (S225B/A3412B) and support the Fairness & Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act (S6747/A7452).

Over 30,000 people are incarcerated in New York’s prison system. Incarcerated New Yorkers are forced to work, in sometimes unsafe jobs, earning $0.33 or less per hour. People who are incarcerated produce goods – like hand sanitizer and furniture – that the state sells for profit, and work jobs like groundskeeping and run programming that keep facilities operational. The No Slavery in New York Act and the Fairness & Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act would fundamentally change the way that New York’s prison labor system operates. The No Slavery in New York Act prohibits people who are incarcerated from being forced to work or punished for refusing to do so. The Fairness and Opportunity Bill will increase the wage for workers, guarantee safe working conditions, and provide meaningful employment opportunities that set people up for successful integration into the workforce upon release.

“I am proud to sponsor the No Slavery in New York Act with Senator Zellnor Myrie, a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw the practice of forced labor in New York prisons,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. “Similar constitutional amendments have been ratified across the nation from Alabama to Nebraska. Additionally, I am sponsoring the Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act, which establishes the NY State Prison Labor Board to ensure safe working conditions and just compensation and promote rehabilitative success for incarcerated individuals participating in labor. If New York truly wants to lead the nation in progressive values, we must get these common-sense bills passed this session.”

“The backbone of a just New York lies in its ability to ensure that justice exists for all people,” said Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages. “The 13th Amendment promised the nullification of slavery; however, through the exploitative system of prison labor, a more modern system of slavery has been reinvented. By passing the No Slavery in NY Act, we can lead the way in uprooting a system of modern-day enslavement that has haunted marginalized communities for decades, thereby upholding justice.”

“I was proud that our No Slavery in NY Act passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote last year,” said Senator Zellnor Myrie. “This year, we must continue the fight to abolish involuntary labor for all New Yorkers.”

“The exception for slavery as punishment for a crime has allowed for a prison labor system in New York so dependent on exploitation and degradation that it is akin to modern-day slavery,” said Jesse Koklas, Statewide Organizer for Ending Mass Incarceration at Citizen Action of NY. “Slavery is not a New York value, and our constitution needs to reflect that. No More Slavery in New York means no forced labor or slave wages, fair and safe working conditions, pathways to employment post-incarceration, and dignity and fairness for all New Yorkers.”

“We must uphold the principles of labor and equality for everyone,” said Assemblymember Demond Meeks. “While incarcerated individuals are paid 10 to 65 cents per hour, the state produces hundreds of millions of dollars through forced labor. Through our collective actions and legislation, we can ensure that all individuals have the right to work with dignity and respect. We must eradicate slavery and these forms of oppression from New York state prisons. Together, we can build a future to uphold the 13th Amendment and become a beacon of human rights.”

“New York is one of the earliest architects of the modern-day prison labor system. Today, our state continues to force people to work under threat of punishment like solitary confinement, delayed parole, and loss of family visitation privileges. We pay pennies to incarcerated workers, who churn out goods for profit, sometimes in unsafe working conditions,” said Naila Awan, Co-Director of Policy at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It is far past time to end forced labor in New York carceral institutions and supply workers who are incarcerated with fair wages, labor protections, and meaningful employment opportunities. New York must pass the No Slavery in New York Act and the Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act without delay.”

“We at A Little Piece of Light hope the New York State Legislature can understand how immoral and unethical the continued use of the antiquated prison slavery system is. No human being is a commodity. The No Slavery in NY Act must be passed immediately so we can get one step closer to ending slavery in our state once and for all,” said Donna Hylton, Founder & CEO of A Little Piece of Light.