Amendment would ban prison labor in California

California

FILE – In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire Inmate Firefighting Hand Crew members hike through the charred landscape on their way to work east of Gibraltar Road above Montecito, Calif. California is scrambling to find sufficient wildland firefighters amid a coronavirus outbreak that has depleted the ranks of inmates who usually handle some of the toughest duties. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California relies on thousand of inmates to fight massive wildfires, churn out vehicle license plates, mop prison floors and myriad other tasks — all for wages that rarely top a few dollars a day.

Opponents, led by State Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, want to end the practice, which they call a visage of slavery. They propose to amend the state Constitution’s ban on indentured servitude to remove an exemption for people who are being punished for crimes.

Prison officials argue the tasks can bring swifter release and teach skills that lead to jobs on the outside.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney on Thursday asked his board to become the first to formally back the amendment.

“This directly impacts the tens of thousands of people currently incarcerated in California prisons and detention centers who are disproportionately Black and Brown,” Haney said, according to the San Francisco Examiner. “Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, California inmates have been forced to work for as low as eight cents per hour.”

Last year, in the midst of a devastating round of wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a law that would clear the path for inmate firefighters to transition to career work after incarceration.

The new bill, AB 2147 accelerates the process for expunging inmate records so it is easier for them to earn an emergency medical technician certification — which is the first step towards becoming a pro firefighter.

Read the amendment here.

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