BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff Writer
Concerned citizens from all walks of life including attorneys, university professors, and business owners, gathered for a roundtable discussion on how government sanctioned slave labor helps produce enormous profits for corporations, and how to end that practice.
Organized by Free Ohio Movement, a grass root organization that strives to help improve the lives of incarcerated individuals, and reform the prison system, was held at the Frederick Douglass Community Center, on Saturday, March 25.
Washington Muhammad, representative for the organization, told The Toledo Journal that the event was to inform the public about the huge profits that are made from the free labor of prisoners, and then work on strategies to end that practice.
He also said that representatives from various organizations would share their experiences working within the penal system, and or their experiences trying to persuade elected officials to end the practice.
Richard Kerger is a trail lawyer, who also represents Siddique Abdulla Hassan, who was accused of starting the Lucasville riot of 1993. Mr. Hassan is still incarcerated, and is on death row.
Mr. Kerger spoke about the current situation of Mr. Hassan, as well as how prisons profit from free prison labor.
“If a prison, and or a corporation, is going to employ a prisoner, then the prisoner has the right to receive fair pay, workers’’s compensation, and has the right to voice their concerns about unsafe or unfair work environment. These corporations are making huge profits off the prisoners, and the prisoners get nothing in return,” Mr. Kerger said.
According to the Ohio Penal Industries’ website, the types of products produced by inmates include dentures, glasses, the Ohio, and United States flags, school and office supplies, clothing, meats, and milk.
Mr. Kerger added that he’s not sure if even the skills the prisoners learn are transferable. “I’m not sure if the prisoners, once released, are even hired by the companies they worked for. You would think the businesses would want to hire them, being that they know the skill, but I’m not sure if they do. This type of concerns needs to be looked further into.”
Dennis Boatwright spent 24 years in prison, and has been free for four years. He shared his experiences, and solutions for putting an end to corporations, and prisons getting free labor from the prisoners.
The prisons charge high prices for phone calls, and products sold within the jail, to the inmates, he said. “It’s not just the inmates that have to pay those high prices, but their family as well,” Mr. Boatwright said.
“I had to pay over $200 for an MP3 player; something at the time you could get for particularly free,” Mr. Boatwright said.
In addition, he revealed that a lot of people may not be aware of the fact that prisoners can no longer get a college education while incarcerated. “The highest education one can obtain in prison is their GED,” he explained.
Mr. Boatwright said giving the inmates an opportunity to obtain their college education is a big part of reforming.
As far as what citizens can do about helping end prisons, and corporations getting free labor from the inmates would be boycott products produced by the inmates, and sold by corporations.
Anyone interested in getting involved with ending free labor by inmates can like the Community Solidarity Response Network page on Facebook, or visit FreeOhioMovement.org.