Incarcerated workers are now digging mass graves on Hart Island in NYC for people who succumb to #COVID19. The need, and the trauma it will impose on those workers, are unimaginable.

It’s time to talk about prison labor and its use in gov emergency response plans. THREAD 👇 /1
In recent weeks, several states have begun using incarcerated workers to manufacture #PPE for first responders and other essential products like gowns (IN, OH, TN, WA), masks (CT, IN, MA, OH), and hand sanitizer (NY) currently in shortage due to the #COVID19 pandemic. /2
But this practice of using incarcerated workers on the frontlines of public crises is not new. For decades, if not centuries, states have built prison labor into their emergency response plans. Just last year, CA used incarcerated workers to fight wildfires. /3
Despite the importance of their work, incarcerated workers are grossly underpaid, often just cents per hour. And in some states like TX and GA, they're not paid at all.

While many are proudly participating in these work assignments to help, their exploitation is still felt. /4
But we don't just exploit incarcerated workers in moments of crisis like today, we do this every day. They make products like license plates, school desks, office furniture, eyeglasses, and goat cheese, and they provide services like asbestos abatement and maintenance. /5
The underpayment of incarcerated workers doesn't just subsidize gov budgets, it also generates revenue for states. Last year, @NYGovCuomo revealed a revenue plan that required drivers purchase new license plates, a plan that depended on workers making pennies per hour. /6
That’s why prison labor is compared to slavery, which was never abolished. The 13th Am, includes an important exception that allows enslavement as punishment for crime. This gave birth to convict leasing, which was often more profitable, brutal, and may be a better comparison. /7
Convict leasing involved renting incarcerated people from states. If they died due to abuse or conditions, the state simply provided another body. By the end of the 19th century, over 70% of AL's state revenue came from convict leasing. The practice was outlawed by the 1930s. /8
Note that the prison population went from largely white to largely black after the civil war. By the 1900s, nearly all people in prison were black, incarcerated for violating Black Codes, or concocted "vagrancy" laws that criminalized everyday life for black people. /9
Today, states are putting incarcerated workers at grave risk in responding to #COVID19. They are crowded in factories and often barred from using the life-saving products they're manufacturing. If they get ill or die, there are millions who can be put to work behind them. /10
Some argue that prison labor allows incarcerated people to develop skills. But, it doesn't take 25, 10, or 5 years to develop these skills. We're just exploiting labor.

Not to mention, that many of the jobs inside are not available outside or to formerly incarcerated people. /11
Others say that people should be forced to work as punishment. The loss of liberty is punishment, enslavement is something else. But also, this prevents incarcerated people from paying restitution to their victims or child support for their children and preparing for release. /12
With all this, it's disturbing how comfortable leaders are exploiting prison labor and how people do gymnastics to justify and defend it. This is slavery. This is convict leasing. We fought a war about it. And yet, here we are.

We need to pay incarcerated workers real wages. /13
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