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CA Jail Inmates Not Entitled To Salaries, State High Court Rules

The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that county jail inmates are not entitled to be paid minimum wage and overtime or any pay at all, even when working for a private contractor. The law, the justices found, "does not ensure county jail inmates working in the county jail will be paid anything at all."

The case was brought by inmates working in an industrial kitchen at Santa Rita Jail in Northern California, reports Courthouse News Service. The inmates work without pay for Aramark, a private contractor, preparing and packaging meals for Alameda County Sheriff's Department facilities and satellite offices and out-of-county jails under a $19 million contract with the county. The work is voluntary, with detainees who work able to receive credits taken off their sentences if they are convicted — and no benefit if they are not convicted.

"We have a situation that is unregulated," the inmates' attorney Dan Siegel told the Supreme Court. "These inmates, who haven't been convicted of any crime and who are incarcerated because they can't afford to pay bail, are simply moved around as tokens." California law addresses employment and wage rules for state prison inmates, who have been convicted of crimes. They must be paid a prevailing wage, but up to 80% of their wages can be withheld to mitigate the cost of their incarceration and to compensate crime victims and their families. As for county inmates, including those yet to be tried, California law caps their pay at $2 for eight hours of work, a maximum that has gone unchanged since 1975. There is no provision saying they must be paid, even if they work for private for-profit contractors. The plaintiffs argued the $2-per-eight-hours cap is inapplicable when inmates work for private contractors. The Supreme Court disagreed.


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