The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. After slavery was abolished, a new slavery was established called convict leasing. Black folks would be arrested for petty “crimes” such as loitering or disorderly conduct and then sentenced to years of hard labor where many of them would die. People convicted of these bogus crimes and crimes of poverty (theft) built railroads, mined coal and iron, made turpentine, cleared land and of course grew and picked cotton.
Our own city of Athens participated in this system, building its own workcamp in the late 1920s. These inmates worked on roads and bridges and a county farm (according to the ACC website). Today, people imprisoned in Athens work without pay for multiple departments. The city calls this a win-win as the “value of inmate labor exceeds the operating costs of the Athens-Clarke County Department of Corrections” (ACC website).
These people are subsidizing several ACC departments, including the Solid Waste Department, the Landscape Department and the Building Inspection and Code Enforcement Department. We learned this last month at a Federation of Neighborhoods meeting, where several directors admitted that ACC does not pay people working in their departments. When we looked at the Corrections budget we found out that 90 percent of people locked away in Athens’ correctional facility work for the city, amounting to 204,048 hours of unpaid labor stolen from people living in Athens.
We oppose this practice on multiple fronts because we believe the city should provide all of its workers with living wages and that good-paying jobs decrease poverty and crime. Moreover, we believe jobs with fair wages in a city with such high poverty serves the city more than unpaid labor ever could. At the last Board of Directors meeting, A4E voted unanimously to oppose the use of unpaid labor of incarcerated people, by ACCUG and any institution. A week later, at the mayor and commission meeting, Patrick Davenport and Tim Denson spoke against the use of unpaid labor in our city.
We invite you to join us at our next Political Discussion Group (February 20, at 6 p.m., at 1060 Gaines School Rd. [the ACC Dems headquarters]), where we will talk about this issue, and the next Federation of Neighborhoods meeting on February 11, 2019, at 7:30 p.m. at Ciné (in downtown Athens), where we will ask the mayor and commission what their stances are on the issue of unpaid labor.
Athens for Everyone
February 11, 2019