Some state prison inmates spend hours each week working various labor and service jobs in their facilities, and two state elected officials want to make sure they are properly compensated for their work.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemb Nick Perry, both Brooklyn Democrats, announced Wednesday they will introduce legislation in their respective bodies that would raise the minimum wage for state inmates from a dime to $3.00 an hour. Myrie said the average pay for detainees who work various labor jobs, including license plate manufacturing and sheet metal and textile work, is only 62 cents an hour.
“This is a disgrace,” he said at a news conference. “No one who is working should be earning what our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated and work earn.”
The last time the minimum wage for state inmates was raised was in 1993, according to Myrie’s office. In addition to the unfair wages, the senator said the low pay doesn’t give the detainees any financial support when they are released.
Lymus Rivera said while he was working during his 23-year incarceration he only made a maximum of 42 cents an hour and when he was released, he only had $40 in his pocket.
“If we had an opportunity to have better wages, we would have an easier time transitioning back home,” Rivera, who now works for the nonprofit the Fortune Society, said.
Myrie said critics contend that these inmates do not deserve a higher pay since they are serving their sentences, but he noted that they are being used to create products that are used in state facilities and offices and should be treated like any other worker. He also said states such as Colorado and Kansas have a $3.00 an hour minimum wage for incarcerated workers.
“You have inmates who are working for corporations . . . and they are benefiting off [the inmates’] backs,” he said.