Lawsuit Challenges Forced Agricultural Labor at Angola

Photo by msppmoore | License

On Saturday, the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) and Rights Behind Bars, two nonprofit advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Corrections and Prison Enterprises challenging the practice of forced agricultural labor at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, or Angola.

“Louisiana’s evolution from mass enslavement to mass incarceration is undeniable,” said Lydia Wright, PJI Associate Director of Civil Litigation. “Angola’s fields were once cultivated by enslaved people. Today, the State forces incarcerated men – primarily Black men – to plant and pick plantation crops by hand, without safety equipment and in extreme heat and humidity. The State extracts this labor by threatening incarcerated men with serious harm, including disciplinary confinement, if they protest the unsafe work conditions or fail to meet arbitrary efficiency quotas.”

According to a 2022 report from the ACLU, prisoners who are unable or unwilling to meet their labor quotas are placed in segregation.

“In the field each inmate is given a number to a row of crops to be cultivated or pulled and bagged which is about half a mile,” one prisoner, who chose to remain anonymous to avoid potential retaliation, told the ACLU. “The gun guard on the horse said she wanted 30 sacks of greens and was keeping count. I was on sack 23 before the specified time and was transported to segregation.”

According to their 2021 annual report, Prison Enterprises, a division of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, earns over $2.6 million each year selling the crops produced at Angola. According to their website, while some of those crops are used to support livestock and other operations, the majority are sold on the open market. Livestock sales earn an additional $1.7 million.

In contrast to other states, incarcerated workers in Louisiana are not protected by standard labor laws, including workplace safety guarantees. According to the ACLU, Angola inmates reported working with little rest, limited access to water, and no rest. Workers have reported seeing others collapse from dehydration or exhaustion while working the fields on hot days.

“Forced labor cannot continue in Louisiana particularly the type of forced labor that people at Angola are subjected to, which is intended to harm” said Oren Nimni, Litigation Director for Rights Behind Bars. “The intolerable and obviously dangerous conditions of the Farm Line subject everyone at Angola to an unacceptable risk of physical and psychological harm and the risk is even greater for individuals with disabilities.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District on behalf of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) and four men currently incarcerated at Angola, who seek to represent all those forced to work on what is known as the “Farm Line,” with additional subclasses identified as prisoners with disabilities and those who were convicted through non-unanimous juries.

“The United States has a long, problematic history of using incarcerated workers as a source of cheap labor and to subsidize the costs of our bloated prison system,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “Incarcerated workers deserve the same dignity and protections as other workers. This includes a fair wage, training, and basic workplace safety. It’s past time we treat incarcerated workers with dignity.

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *