Prisoners in Sweatshop-Made Pants Performing Free Labor

Categories: Government, Media
Norma Rae did not craft San Francisco prisoners' jumpsuits
Yesterday, the Examiner revealed that the city outfitted its prisoners in jail pants manufactured in a Dominican plant purportedly guilty of a bevy of sweatshop violations.

In running afoul of our Sweatfree Contracting Ordinance, the city has been caught with its pants down. Did you know that San Francisco has a Sweatfree Procurement Advisory Group? Now you do.

Left unsaid in the article, however, is that prisoners -- outfitted in duds produced by sweatshop laborers paid a pittance -- are performing labor within the jail for no compensation whatsoever.

The jail's "inmate workers" perform a variety of tasks, such as helping to prepare and distribute meals, remove food trays, clean up in the kitchen, laundry, and general cleaning. Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Susan Fahey confirms that they are not paid a cent.

"The inmates do not get compensated. Lots of people prefer to be doing that to be doing something," she says. "It gets you out of your daily routine. It's something to do."

Fahey stressed that inmate workers are not forced to perform manual labor -- this is a voluntary position. And unlike state prisoners, San Francisco shut-ins are not involved in any sort of labor program.

It's not exactly Scared Straight -- but perhaps potential criminals could be persuaded to clean up their acts if they learned that jail is the kind of place where people actually see fit to volunteer to push a broom or clean off a food tray, just to have something to do.

"It gets them out of their housing area," notes Fahey. "It doesn't necessarily give them more freedom, but it gives them a variety of activities."

Prisoners are no longer working on the jail farm. And, for that matter, they're not sewing together their own pants. If a Dominican sweatshop raised the city's red flags, imagine what jail-produced clothing would do.

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We would be better off having prisoners make their own uniforms.

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