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Massive Egg Farm in AZ Profited Off Women Prisoners

As the pandemic lockdowns in prisons shut down prison work details, Hickman's Family Farms was an exception as one of the Arizona's prison system's biggest clients. Hickman's workforce included more than 200 incarcerated women and men, at least a quarter of the farm's workforce, as the company housed and exploited its state-provided labor in poor conditions without adequate safety rules, Cosmopolitan magazine reports. The farm, one of the largest egg producers in the country, got its workers through Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI), a self-funded division of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR) that functions in part like a staffing firm, funneling incarcerated workers to private clients. To avoid shutting down during the pandemic, ACI and ADCRR allowed Hickman to continue using imprisoned workers on the condition that they would be housed outside of prison and stay at Hickman's facility itself. This allowed Hickman to be the only private company in Arizona to use imprisoned workers directly,


From March 2020 until it ended in June 2021, the program cycled about 300 women through this prison outpost. At least 19 incarcerated women working at Hickman’s sites sustained injuries of varying severity between in 2020 alone. A 6,000-square-foot metal-sided warehouse had been repurposed from an apparent vehicle hangar into a bare-bones dormitory. Workers were assigned to prison-made bunk beds spaced so tightly that social distancing was impossible. The warehouse also lacked plumbing and used a mobile trailer with six cheap shower stalls that had to suffice for personal hygiene. About a dozen portable toilets stood in for actual toilets, separated from the sleeping area by a mere partition. Housed in conditions described by many as hideous, the women performed dangerous work at base hourly wages as low as $4.25. The jobs consisted of cleaning processing plants, using tools, hoses and industrial agents amid eggs, shells, and bird excrement. Prisoners also vaccinated massive barns of live birds, packed giant pallets of eggs, and euthanized older “spent hens” by the thousands. Jobs at Hickman’s also exposed workers to moving mechanical parts, fumes, extreme heat, toxic chemicals, precarious heights, and risk of electrical shock, according to ADCRR. Since 2018, 14 people have sued Hickman’s for workplace injuries sustained while incarcerated. Of these cases, two have been dismissed, three are pending, and eight (including two cases consolidated into one) have been settled. In court documents, Hickman’s has repeatedly denied responsibility for the injuries. Said Erin Hatton, a sociologist at the University at Buffalo-SUNY and the author of Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment, “No matter how many times they say it’s about rehabilitation and opportunity and skill development, that does not seem to be what’s happening here."

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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