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Sen. Cory Booker Calls for Prison Labor Policy Reform

Senator Cory Booker criticized the practice of coercive labor, including working in extreme conditions, and emphasized the importance of prisoners learning job-ready skills while preparing for reintegration into society, during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, reports The Associated Press. “Our prisons should reflect the best of who we are, they should reflect our values,” Booker said. “And they should, in my strong opinion, be places that are not just for punishment, but for rehabilitation and for creating roads of redemption.” Booker was speaking during a hearing aimed at looking at ways to rethink prison labor: from making jobs voluntary, boosting wages, and protecting workers against injuries and abuse.

Prisoners who refuse to work can be punished, including being thrown into solitary confinement, while those injured or killed often do not have access to the most basic rights and protections guaranteed to other American workers. Andrea Armstrong, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, said incarcerated workers are sometimes given dangerous assignments with little or no training, leading in some cases to painful and lifelong, debilitating injuries, and even death. That was never intended to be part of their sentence, she said. “Refusing to work in dangerous conditions could even lead to new criminal charges and new sentences in some states,” she said. “And we, the general public, have no idea because this forced labor occurs in spaces that lack oversight, transparency and accountability.” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas pushed back, saying prisoners are dangerous people housing in dangerous facilities where "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Prison labor is a way for inmates to give something back to the society they wronged, Cotton contended.


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