It’s Your Health: Work in Prison

by Pam Fadem
Prison is bad for your health?physically, mentally and emotionally?and we have plenty of proof! But work in prison?often a mandated part of programming to meet parole and release criteria?is more and more becoming a serious threat to the health and safety of all prisoners.
A recently released report, ?Toxic Sweatshops: How UNICOR Prison Recycling Harms Workers, Communities, the Environment and the Recycling Industry,? documents how the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) exposes prisoners and staff at 7 federal prisons (including Atwater here in California) to cancer-causing toxic chemicals while working for slave wages in UNICOR?s electronic waste recycling business. The report goes on to condemn the BOP for trying to cover up these health and safety violations, and recommends an immediate halt to the BOP program.
Just as with workers in the electronics industry outside prison walls, work for Allwire Corp. at CCWF?s Joint Venture program raises many health concerns about the toxic materials that workers come in contact with during the assembly of circuit boards and other electronic components including inhaling and skin contact with toxic chemicals.
Other jobs have health risks, too:
Doing farm work (cultivating almond trees and growing alfalfa) women are exposed to toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Garment industry work presents many health hazards including injuries from broken sewing machine needles, asthma and other respiratory illnesses from the lint, and allergic reactions (hives and other skin problems) from the chemical coatings on the fabric.
In warehouse work for prison supplies women are exposed to physical injuries from lifting, stacking and carrying.
Making dentures, partials, and night-guards in a dental lab for State prisons and veterans? homes women are exposed to chemicals and dust during manufacturing, though this is a desired job because the training makes a woman employable on the outside.
The bottom tier of available jobs includes, central kitchen where women are sometimes burned by the heavy, hot pans, porters, yard crew, and other maintenance such as of electrical appliances.
Just as workers outside prisons have fought for legal rights to decent wages and work conditions, there is a history of struggle inside prisons across the U.S. over health and safety, as well as respect and fair wages. But as the editorial says, the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery everywhere except in prisons.