Californians about to decide on forced labor ban

Californians about to decide on forced labor ban

Californians about to decide on forced labor ban


In November 2024, California voters will determine whether to eliminate forced labor, including in state prisons. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 (ACA 8) seeks to end the exception in the state’s 1850 constitution that permits forced labor as a criminal punishment.

Addressing forced labor in state prisons

ACA 8 will primarily affect the 65,000 work assignments given to incarcerated individuals in California’s prisons each year.

The issue of forced labor in prisons has long been a contentious one. Incarcerated individuals often perform essential functions within the prison system, from cleaning and cooking to firefighting and construction, under threat of punishment if they refuse.

Across the U.S., incarcerated workers report facing retaliation for refusing dangerous tasks, which undermines supposed rehabilitation efforts.

Lawrence Cox, a policy fellow with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, shared his personal experience with ABC 10, noting how forced labor was prioritized over his educational goals during his 17 years of incarceration.

“I have been forced to work jobs and had jobs where I couldn’t get out. When I wanted to take my on-site college courses to complete my degree, forced labor was prioritized over my rehabilitation.”

Supporters emphasize that ACA 8 is not against prison labor but advocates for voluntary work. Currently, incarcerated workers earn between 30 to 48 cents per hour, with those working in wildfire containment earning more. Advocates insist that meaningful rehabilitation comes from the choice to work, not coercion.

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