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September 13, 2007

Cleaning up the jail

This little AP story from my home state to too fun to resist a post:

Inmates at the Allen County Jail are scrubbing floors and showers after complaining about sanitary conditions at the facility.  Sheriff Dan Beck says he eliminated phone and television privileges for two days in two cell blocks and made inmates start cleaning. Some of the inmates had signed a petition complaining of leaky roofs and toilets, poor air quality and mold in the jail.

September 13, 2007 at 03:11 PM | Permalink


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Honestly, while there was no need to be punitive about it by denying privileges and the routine lack of distinction between the convicted and the accused is troubling, getting prisoners involved in this kind of work isn't a terrible idea.

Idleness is as insidious and prone to promote recidivism as anything else. And, the main obstacle to private sector prison labor is that it competes with private industry.

But, is there isn't funding to pay anyone else to do the work for a market rate, there is no problem with having inmates in a jail who have been convicted do the work from a macroeconomi perspective. We expect similar things from military inmates at Levenworth, one of the least unruly prisons in the nation The 13th Amendment to the constitution even expressly allows for the possibility.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Sep 13, 2007 3:33:20 PM

Ohwilleke, do you mean the amendment that allows for involuntary servitude "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted"? What relevance does that have to pretrial detainees in a jail?

The truth is, many inmates would prefer working to staying locked in their cells for 23 hours out of the day. And it's generally acceptable for jail administrators to require inmates to take some responsibility for maintaining the cleanliness of their facilities.

But there is only some much jail inmates can be held responsible for. If this sheriff is not properly maintaining the toilets or the roof, providing adequate ventilation, or is allowing mold to grow, he has serious problems that he needs to address. As for the inmates, they have a right -- indeed, an obligation under federal law -- to bring such conditions to the sheriff's attention. Forgive me if the prospect of government retaliation against indigent criminal defendants strikes me as something other than "fun."

Posted by: the 13th amendment? | Sep 13, 2007 4:03:26 PM

I bet he's got them all up on the roof repairing those leaks.

What a jerk!

Posted by: David in NY | Sep 13, 2007 4:12:49 PM

What happens to those not convicted of any crime if they refuse?

Posted by: federalist | Sep 13, 2007 4:36:38 PM

According to the last sentence of the article, the sheriff "says from now on inmates will be required to clean the housing blocks, which hold misdemeanor offenders." If the paper is using the word "offenders" correctly, that would mean convicted rather than pretrial. Newspapers are usually pretty consistent about inserting "alleged" or "accused" before trial. (The legal department insists on it.)

Ohwilleke hit the bullseye on idleness.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 13, 2007 5:13:57 PM

I used to work as an assistant public defender in a small southern town. At times when I would go to the jail or go past the jail, I would see my clients out washing the sheriff's cars or something. I think in that case, they were getting paid (at least a little bit) for their labor. Of course, they were getting some fresh air, and I'm pretty sure that being outside washing police cars sure beat sitting in their tiny cells.

My understanding of the 13th Amendment (combined with the 5th and 14th due process clauses) is that the inmate has to be specifically sentenced to work as part the sentence (e.g. the old sentences calling for 10 years at hard labor). Definitely even in absence of a specific sentence, convicts and pre-trial people can work voluntarily for pay (or maybe just voluntarily). However, as I read this, it says that the sheriff is forcing the inmates (who may well be pre-trial detainees) clean up the jail (and taking away privileges) specifically BECAUSE (emphasis added) some of them complained about the jail conditions. I would hope that any civilized person would agree that that is outrageous. It is a long ways away from the type of trustee work I observed - or paid work as part of a prison vocational program than forced labor in retalation for petitioning the government to improve conditions of confinement which could threaten the health and safety of the inmates and staff members.

Posted by: Zack | Sep 13, 2007 6:37:33 PM

I suppose the sheriff checked with the county attorney before he put the prisoners to work doing custodial work. It is very common for jail inmates to sue the sheriff or a jail staff member. This means extra work for the county attorney and they probably would be annoyed if they were not consulted.

Posted by: jsn | Sep 13, 2007 9:49:12 PM

Would there be anything wrong with having nondangerous inmates be generally responsible for the cleanliness of the jail? After all, most people clean their own homes . . .

I am talking about offenders who can be trusted not to turn cleaning equipment into weapons, for example.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Sep 14, 2007 3:17:06 AM

I'd be horribly pissed off if a pretrial detainee, held on bail he can not afford (b/c prosecutor called him a flight risk and danger to community), is routinely let out of the jail to go wash police cars down the street. The defendant is obviously NOT a flight risk or danger, and should be released on his own recognizance pending trial.

Posted by: bruce | Sep 14, 2007 3:19:29 AM

Interesting how this little story with few details has served as a Rorschach test for people to project in all kinds of things.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 14, 2007 12:38:13 PM

For some interesting projection, surf on over to CourtTV.com boards. Reminds me of the Milgram Experiment. It gets good about 20 minutes into the film.

Posted by: George | Sep 14, 2007 5:02:50 PM

Zack, I have to say that you could not be more wrong regarding the 13th Amendment "exception" applying only to those sentenced to "hard labor." Any (sentenced) inmate who refuses to work will most certainly be diciplined by correctional authorities. See, e.g., the Federal BOP's lists of prohibited acts - where "refusing a work assignment" is specifically mentioned.

Posted by: waiting for a new boss (f/k/a anonymous) | Sep 14, 2007 10:22:43 PM

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