Legal Aid Society


Incarcerated New Yorkers Detail Horrific Experiences of Forced Labor

A new piece in NY Magazine features a series of letters from incarcerated New Yorkers detailing their experiences with forced labor in the State’s prison system.

In the letters, these individuals describe instances of subhuman working conditions that include being subjected to grueling hours with few — if any — breaks, extremely low pay, and abuse by the prison staff overseeing their work.

These letters were solicited and collected by the 13th Forward Coalition, a legislative coalition which includes The Legal Aid Society, that is advocating for the No Slavery in New York Act, which would ban coerced labor for all New Yorkers.

“The treatment that incarcerated individuals — who are disproportionately people of color — are forced to endure while working in New York State prisons and jails is shocking and abhorrent,” said Bryant Bell, a Paralegal Casehandler in the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “I know because I endured it. In Coxsackie, I worked for Corcraft making swivel chairs for a meager prison wage. In addition to being exploited, we were humiliated too. I recall civilians visiting our work and living conditions like we were animals in a cage.”

“Today, incarcerated New Yorkers work grueling hours, and they receive mere pennies a day for their labor, which is scarcely enough to afford the inflated price of commissary items that many need just to get through the day,” he continued. “This treatment is an affront to the dignity inherent within all human beings and the growth that incarcerated individuals make during their time inside. Our leaders in Albany must put an end to this inhumanity by passing the No Slavery in New York Act, which will ban the cruel practice of forced labor and finally abolish the prison labor exception that has allowed for modern-day slavery to thrive in detention centers across New York State.”

Read more about incarcerated New Yorker’s experiences in their own words here.