[Pnews] Alameda County Sheriff, Aramark Are Forcing Prisoners Into ‘Involuntary Servitude,’ New Suit Says

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 22 10:49:47 EST 2019


https://theappeal.org/alameda-county-sheriff-prisoners-involuntary-servitude/ 



  Alameda County Sheriff, Aramark Are Forcing Prisoners Into
  ‘Involuntary Servitude,’ New Suit Says

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg Nov 21, 2019


    Some pre-trial prisoners and immigration detainees are forced to
    work without pay in violation of the 13th Amendment, according to
    attorneys.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

In a class action lawsuit filed Wednesday, attorneys accused the Alameda 
County, California, sheriff and Aramark Correctional Services of forcing 
some pre-trial prisoners and immigration detainees to work without pay 
in violation of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery and 
involuntary servitude, except if used as punishment for a person who has 
been convicted of a crime. As of June, about 85 percent of people at the 
jail had not been sentenced, according to state data.

“The work plaintiffs performed was not a part of daily housekeeping 
duties in the jail’s personal and communal living areas,” the complaint 
reads 
<https://drive.google.com/file/d/10gkFt4xQGTly1S2eas1XVPafrCJKta_x/view?usp=sharing>. 
“Rather, it was forced labor for the profit of Aramark.”

Attorneys filed the suit on behalf of eight named plaintiffs—pre-trial, 
convicted, and immigration detainees who worked for Aramark while 
incarcerated at the Santa Rita Jail—as well as all past, present, and 
future prisoners at the jail who work for Aramark. The complaint argues 
all should be paid, including those who have been convicted.

According to California state law 
<https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-2717-8.html>, 
prisoners who work for a private company must be paid wages 
<https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/constitution-of-the-state-of-california-1879/cons-art-xiv-sect-5.html>that 
are comparable to their non-incarcerated counterparts. Jails can deduct 
from a prisoner’s earnings—such as for taxes and room and board—but a 
prisoner must receive no less than 20 percent of their wages. Prisoners 
at Santa Rita Jail clean the kitchen, prepare food for fellow inmates, 
and make meals for other jails in California, according to a 2017 health 
inspection report 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6556379-2017-Alameda-County-Jail-Health-Report.html>. 
Aramark is a for-profit food services company which contracts with the 
Santa Rita Jail.

Sheriff Gregory Ahern and Aramark are also violating the state’s equal 
pay act <https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/california_equal_pay_act.htm>by, 
the suit claims, “assigning women prisoners fewer and less desirable 
hours to work based on gender.” Female prisoners work a four-hour night 
shift, and men work an eight-hour day shift. If they were paid, the suit 
argues, women would be denied the opportunity to earn as much as their 
male counterparts.

“This corporation is benefiting from people inside,” Carey Lamprecht, 
who worked as an investigator for the suit, told The Appeal.

The sheriff’s deputies threatened incarcerated workers with longer 
sentences or solitary confinement to coerce them to work, the suit 
alleges. As of the filing date, no prisoner has received a lengthier 
sentence for refusing to work, according to Lamprecht. The plaintiffs 
are asking for unspecified damages and for the court to declare these 
labor practices unconstitutional and illegal.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly confirmed that incarcerated 
workers are not paid by the sheriff’s office or Aramark. However, he 
said, workers are not threatened or coerced. On the contrary, he told 
The Appeal, they are grateful for the opportunities to work.

“I think it’s all part of a very well-defined movement against county 
jails in regards to deincarcerating and defunding county jails,” Kelly 
said of the suit.

Aramark did not respond to The Appeal’s requests for comment. The 
district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Advocates have previously accused 
<https://theappeal.org/ice-friendly-policies-a-string-of-jail-deaths-why-does-this-sheriff-keep-getting-elected/>Ahern 
of operating a jail that routinely subjects prisoners to inhumane 
conditions 
<https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/the-most-dangerous-place-in-alameda-county/Content?oid=26245173&showFullText=true>. 
Since Jan. 1, 2014, more than 40 people have died at the jail, 16 of 
them by suicide, according to a report by KTVU 
<https://www.ktvu.com/news/a-look-at-the-40-inmates-who-have-died-at-santa-rita-jail-in-the-last-five-years>. 
So far this year, nine people 
<https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/10/29/jail-inmate-dies-over-weekend-after-suspected-drug-overdose/>have 
died at the jail, though the sheriff’s office claimed three of the 
people died after they were released under the office’s compassionate 
release program, according to the report. However, all three were listed 
as in-custody deaths on the coroner’s reports, the report notes.

Prisoners and their families have sued Ahern over a wide range of abuses 
at the jail, including an incident when deputies allegedly forced a 
woman 
<https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2018/01/04/pregnant-women-allege-abuse-inside-alameda-county-jails>to 
give birth alone in solitary confinement. In July 2017, Candace Steel 
was eight months pregnant when she was arrested on misdemeanors. While 
at the jail, she began cramping and could not walk. A jail nurse accused 
Steel of exaggerating her symptoms, and deputies placed her in an 
isolation cell as punishment, according to Steel’s suit 
<https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cand.330806/gov.uscourts.cand.330806.1.0.pdf>. 
She screamed for hours, but was ignored, the suit claims. Deputies 
finally opened the cell when they heard a baby cry, according to her 
complaint. The sheriff’s office and other defendants filed a motion 
<https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cand.330806/gov.uscourts.cand.330806.14.0_1.pdf>to 
dismiss. The case is still in litigation.

This month, another suit filed against the sheriff alleged that 
incarcerated workers at the Santa Rita Jail must wash sheets, towels, 
and other linens from the coroner’s office, which are soiled in human 
bodily fluids. “While these linens are transported in bags clearly 
marked as ‘biohazard,’ these linens are given to jail laundry workers, 
who have no protective clothing,” reads the complaint.

Kelly, the sheriff’s office spokesperson, confirmed that prisoners wash 
sheets from the coroner’s office, but denied that they handle 
biohazardous materials.

“If they are biohazard they are bagged and destroyed and not opened by 
inmates,” he wrote in an email to The Appeal. “Sheets that are not 
considered a hazard are washed by the work crew.”

The conditions at the jail are so dire, according to advocates, that 
male prisoners launched 
<https://www.independentnews.com/news/inmates-end-hunger-strike-and-work-stoppage-at-santa-rita/article_dffc1726-00fe-11ea-a6ac-c74e4c506ca2.html>a 
work stoppage and hunger strike in late October, which lasted about a 
week. In response to the men’s strike, Sheriff’s deputies forced 
women—including two of the named plaintiffs—to work in their place, 
according to the suit filed this week. The deputies threatened to 
withhold meals from female prisoners if the women did not work, the suit 
alleges.

Kelly told The Appeal that during the strike, female prisoners “stepped 
up, came forward.”

“They were very helpful to us when the labor strike occurred,” Kelly 
said. “We did not single them out in any way. As a matter of fact, it 
was the opposite. We were really happy that they came in.”

For the last two years, activists have called on 
<https://ellabakercenter.org/in-the-news/community-members-demand-audit-of-alameda-county-sheriff-gregory-ahern-during-rally-at>the 
county board of supervisors to perform a financial and performance audit 
of Ahern’s office 
<https://www.ktvu.com/news/jail-reform-advocates-urge-supervisors-conduct-audit-of-alameda-county-sheriffs-office-following-2-investigates-report>, 
but they have failed to do so, said Jose Bernal, senior organizer and 
advocate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights 
<http://www.ellabakercenter.org/>, one of the groups that launched the 
#AuditAhern campaign.

“Over 400 prisoners went on strike asking for basic dignity,” Bernal 
told The Appeal. “Santa Rita Jail is a very dangerous, dangerous place.”

-- 
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