When is voluntary labor not voluntary? Some thoughts on NY State Proposition 2

I'm wondering why there has not been any real discussion in the press or information distribution by activist organizations about New York State Ballot Proposition 2. The wording of the proposition seems very different from the actual change to the State Constitution that will be enacted if the proposition passes. Is this about allowing prisoners to volunteer at nonprofit organizations or is this about allowing prisons to force inmates to do unpaid labor?

There is very little information on the web about the Ballot Proposition, I'm basing my thoughts on this on the NYC Campaign Finance Board's Voter Information Website, VoteSmart.org's summary of the proposed changes, and the text of the Proposition itself

It came to my attention via facebook yesterday. At first glance, who could be against allowing Prison Inmates the right to do volunteer work for non-profit organizations. Upon further inspection, however, it seems that this is about allowing Prisons to contract with non-profit organizations for unpaid inmate labor. There seems to be little choice involved for the prisoners.

It is very confusing, the stated purpose and official abstract of the proposition says "The purpose of this amendment is to authorize the Legislature to allow inmates in state and local correctional facilities to voluntarily perform work for nonprofit organizations."

The wording that will appear on the ballot is a little less misleading "The New York State Constitution currently prohibits the farming out, contracting, giving away or selling of prisoner labor to any person, firm, association, or corporation. The proposed amendment would authorize the Legislature to pass legislation to permit inmates in state and local correctional facilities to perform work for nonprofit organizations. Shall the proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution be approved?"

I don't see how any prison labor, when organized by the prison, can be voluntary.

When looking at the officially stated justification for this change, the reality of what this is about starts to become more clear.

The correction law currently allows inmates to perform work for the state and public institutions but does not allow them to provide work for non-profit organizations. Current law is limited because section 24 of article 3 of the New York State Constitution forbids the “farming out, contracting, giving away or selling of convict labor.” However, many localities have requested that an exemption be made for non-profit organizations who are often underfunded and do not have the resources to adequately maintain their property. Allowing inmate work crews to provide labor to these organizations will help fill the gap in funding and could give inmates a sense of “giving back” to the community.

It has nothing to do with allowing prisoners to volunteer at a nonprofit, it seems more about allowing municipalities to save money by allowing them and local nonprofit orgs to have maintenance work done by prisoners instead of paid (probably union) labor.

This is an attack on the rights of inmates; this is an attack on labor; this is all about putting profit (yes, the profit of nonprofits) over people. Please Vote No on Proposition 2!

hi! I just wanted to thank

hi! I just wanted to thank you for making this blog post. I am a New Yorker and can find almost no discussions on prop 2. This is an important issue to me and I found your post really helpful.

Just want to throw out that,

Just want to throw out that, according to an AP story:

"Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a prison watchdog group, said inmates struggling with idleness and boredom appreciate voluntary programs that get them into the community, where they might feel productive, acquire skills and make contacts. The concern is that it should not become exploitive, with prisoners feeling coerced to perform free labor and there's a payoff for somebody else, he said."

I suppose there must be a better way to mitigate prisoners' boredom and lack of useful activity without making it about voluntary only labor. I will probably vote No on this (the only other thing I might do is not vote either way).

I thought so too

Late to the party here, but happened to cruise by and want to say that I hadn't heard about this proposition at all until I read the ballot, and voted no because of the whole forced labor thing - even if dressed up in nonprofit clothing. Prison "volunteer" labor reduces jobs.

Well, the measure passed - by two thirds of a miniscule number of voters - 1,280,454 according to http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/New_York_Prisoner_Volunteer_Proposal,_Proposal_2_(2009)


Great post, totally agree with you on that point.

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