Prisoners Exploited for Grueling, Dangerous Jobs No One Else Will Do

    People don’t want to do work that is extremely difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous. To get people to do these sorts of jobs, employers have to offer high pay, necessary safety equipment, and make conditions as good as possible. Of course, that’s expensive. A cheaper option is to force prisoners to work. The threat of being returned to their cells can compel prisoners to accept conditions that would be intolerable to anyone else. And prisoners have little ability to complain about safety.

    An example is when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Eleven people were killed, and crude oil spewed onto Louisiana’s beaches. Massive cleanup crews were needed. The work required 12 hour days dressed in high-density polyethylene coveralls taped to plastic covered steel toed boots. Conditions were 20 minutes on followed by 40 minutes rest to recover from the oppressive heat that builds up in the protective suits under the hot sun. All this is while exposed to noxious and possibly toxic fumes from the oil.

    Even though many coastal residents had lost their incomes due to the contamination, few were willing to take BP’s offer of $10/hr to do this work. Many who started quickly quit after experiencing the difficult conditions. So BP turned to prisoners. In addition to tax breaks, with prisoners BP got a work force willing to endure the hardship. Any inmate who refused the work had any time taking off their sentence for working put back on and was sent straight back to prison.

Learn More

An article in The Nation explaining how BP used African American prisoners to clean up Louisians’s beaches in areas where none of the White residents would agree to do that work.

An article from Prison Legal News describing how inmates were exploited to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

A Description of how BP attempted to hide the use of black prisoners to clean up Louisiana beaches after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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