Since December 2022, Michael Common has spent time during his incarceration working in the kitchen of Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater, in the eastern part of the state. He cleans pots and pans, which he calls “the hardest job there,” and he started at just 50 cents an hour.
He heard from other incarcerated workers that if he worked hard he would get a raise. Sure enough, his boss soon agreed to bump his pay to the highest rate in the kitchen: $1.25 an hour, Common says. The pay increase went into effect for the paycheck dated December 29, which he confirmed by reading his pay stubs over the phone.
“I was very much excited,” says Common, who is 42 years old and has been locked up for more than five years, and in Stillwater for about a year. His new pay of $1.25 an hour is a tiny fraction of the minimum wage for people outside of prison, in a country where prisoners are excluded from federal protections against slavery, and routinely work for little or nothing. But for Common, his hourly pay rate more than doubled with the raise. He was eager for any boost as he struggled to afford necessities in prison and save up for leaving on his release date of July 31.
Forcing incarcerated people to work is also permitted at the federal level. “The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude, ‘except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,’” notes a 2022 report by the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Chicago Law School’s Global Human Rights Clinic.
Read more at The American Prospect