The 13th Amendment of the Constitution abolished slavery for everyone in the United States, that is if you don’t get locked up. The 13th Amendment states that slavery is prohibited here unless it’s “as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” The government has always used prison labor as a means of cheap labor, whereas prisoners in the past made license plates and performed other menial tasks. Prisoners in Arizona are tasked with doing torturous agricultural work, because state law requires prisoners to work. In California, inmates are paid $2 a day to fight wildfires. Recently, in Boston, inmates were used to clear mountains of snow off of the public transit tracks.
However, there is a case coming out of Tennessee where prisoners’ work was being used to the personal benefits of several prison employees at Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility. While the jail is a for-profit entity run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), state law prohibits jail employees from profiting personally off of inmate labor.
The scheme emanated from the jail’s building trades department, specifically the wood shop. Former inmates, Larry Stephney and Charles Brew say that they and others were made to build various products, such as cabinets, yard games, birdhouses, dog beds and sports plaques. While items like the cabinets were built for the jail, the other items were allegedly being sold at flea markets for anywhere from $10 to $20 by a company called Stand Firm Designs. Stand Firm Designs is run by Rob Hill, who serves as building trades instructor at Metro-Davidson. Also on board are Steven Brinkley, the jail’s computer instructor and Roy Napper, a former CCA employee.
Stephney and Brew wrote their names on pieces of wood used to make some of the products. They also wrote, “412148,” the section of Tennessee state code prohibiting jail employees from getting paid off inmates labor. According to the Times Free Press:
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is probing allegations of misuse of inmate labor at the facility, at the request of Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk.