Justice groups were incensed when NY Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans on March 9 for prison inmates to manufacture hand sanitizer in an effort to combat shortages caused by the spread of the coronavirus, The Washington Post reports. They argue that it isn’t just to ask this of incarcerated people when they generally earn less than $1 per hour, and “have a heightened risk of contracting the virus, and are forbidden from possessing hand sanitizer themselves,” according to The Post.
Reports The Post:
At Monday’s news conference, Cuomo proudly pointed out that the antibacterial gel would cost just $6 a gallon to produce. Liberal politicians and advocates for criminal justice reform quickly realized why it was so cheap, and excoriated the governor for relying on “slave labor” to slow the spread of the virus.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) immediately responded on Twitter to the news with condemnation of the plan. “Wow,” she tweeted. “Considering that many incarcerated men & women are subjected to inhumane conditions, including no hand soap, & hand sanitizer is banned in most prisons, this is especially demeaning, ironic & exploitative.”
Wow. Considering that many incarcerated men & women are subjected to inhumane conditions, including no hand soap, & hand sanitizer is banned in most prisons, this is especially demeaning, ironic & exploitive. https://t.co/LnYHP0QbFb— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) March 9, 2020
New York state prisons, like so many others around the country, consider hand sanitizer and its high alcohol content to be contraband. According to the Post, “while Cuomo has said that some of the government-produced hand sanitizer will be distributed to prisons, officials haven’t responded to inquiries about whether incarcerated people will be allowed to use it, or if it’s intended for staff only.”
According to The Post:
As The Marshall Project recently reported, broken sinks and shortages of soap are commonplace in prisons and jails, making it impossible for inmates to follow basic public health guidelines. People who are handcuffed can’t cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and one former Texas inmate told the outlet that she was punished for grabbing a squirt of hand sanitizer when she left the doctor’s office.
Activists groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Legal Aid Society said on Monday that it’s outrageous that New York inmates could potentially slow the spread of the coronavirus, but they earn far less than the minimum wage.
Reports The Post:
Prison wages start at 16 cents an hour and average 65 cents an hour, according to Gothamist. And even those who qualify for productivity bonuses still only earn a maximum of $1.30 an hour. The minimum wage in New York ranges between $11.80 and $15 an hour depending on the worker’s location.
The Legal Aid Society released a statement saying in part, “This is nothing less than slave labor and it must end,” adding, “These individuals work for less than a dollar a day under threat of punishment—including solitary confinement—if they refuse.”
Cuomo has expressed his support for raising income for incarcerated people, however, the state legislature denied a bill last year that would have achieved that goal, The Post reports. State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, the Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the legislation, told The Post that he plans to reintroduce the bill.
“Hand sanitizer shouldn’t cost $50 and workers correcting that injustice shouldn’t be paid 50 cents an hour,” said Myrie. “We can change that right now if we desired.”