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Iowa prisoners earn less than $1 per hour for work, ACLU report finds

By: - June 16, 2022 1:42 pm

Iowa Prison Industries is producing face masks for workers in the state and for inmates and correctional officers. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Corrections)

Iowa prisoners earn less than $1 per hour while working, according to an ACLU prison labor report.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a report on state and federal prison labor Wednesday, calling for reform. Roughly 800,000 prisoners, 65% of the population, reported working during their incarceration. More than three-quarters of the laborers surveyed said they faced severe punishment, including solidarity confinement and loss of visitation rights, if they did not work.

“It’s past time we treat incarcerated workers with dignity,” Jennifer Turner, an author of the report and ACLU human rights researcher said in a news release. “If states and the federal government can afford to incarcerate 1.2 million people nationwide, they can afford to pay them fairly for their work.”

In Iowa, many prisoners work through Iowa Prison Industries, the state’s work and job training program. IPI workers create products from furniture to signs and textiles. IPI was tapped at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to produce personal protective equipment, the Associated Press reported. In correctional facilities across the state, more than 250 inmates and prison staff worked to make hand sanitizer, masks, gowns and face shields.

At that time, workers earned an average pay of $1.15 per hour. One-quarter to one-half of wages are typically taken from their paychecks to pay for outstanding court debts.

Prisoners in Iowa said they earned between 28 and 95 cents per hour, according to the ACLU report. In addition to Iowa Prison Industries, there are five private companies that employ prisoners: Game One in Carroll, H&H, LLC in Clarinda, Lomont Molding in Mount Pleasant, PDM Precast in Des Moines and a division of Quantum Plastics in Victor.

An Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

In addition to better wages and working conditions, the ACLU called for amending the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which bars slavery except for people convicted of crimes. Iowa is one of 20 states whose own constitution doesn’t bar slavery for convicted individuals, according to the ACLU.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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