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Prisoners Claim State Regularly Denied Incarcerated People Parole So They Can Be "Leased"


A group of current and former prisoners has filed a lawsuit against #Alabama, alleging that the state's prison labor system amounts to a "modern-day form of slavery." The 10 plaintiffs, all Black, argue that Alabama's parole system, controlled by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, denies parole to incarcerated individuals, forcing them to work for government agencies and private businesses for minimal or no pay.


The lawsuit accuses the parole board of disregarding a 2015 state law that mandated evidence-based parole decisions and alleges that parole is disproportionately denied to Black individuals, particularly those deemed low-risk and eligible for the state's lucrative prison work programs. The system, according to the lawsuit, effectively revived Alabama's historical practice of "convict leasing," where Black laborers were forced to work for private companies from 1875 to 1928.


Since 2018, the lawsuit claims that over 575 companies and 100 public agencies in Alabama have utilized incarcerated workers in various capacities, generating an annual benefit of $450 million. The plaintiffs include two labor unions, arguing that the use of incarcerated workers undermines labor organizing efforts and depresses wages and working conditions in industries such as fast food and poultry.


The defendants in the lawsuit include state officials, local governments, and franchisees of major fast-food chains. The suit alleges violations of federal trafficking laws, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and the Alabama Constitution, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime.


The plaintiffs seek an end to Alabama's "forced-labor practices," reforms in the parole system, and damages for those who have participated in prison work programs. The lawsuit describes a system with financial incentives to keep people incarcerated and working, including fees charged by the Alabama Department of Corrections and low wages for prisoners working for private companies and government entities. The defendants have not commented on the lawsuit.


The lawsuit filed by current and former inmates in Alabama sheds light on a deeply troubling system that perpetuates "modern-day slavery" under the guise of denying parole. It's crucial to confront and dismantle such exploitative systems that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. 


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