13th Forward is a legislative coalition of advocates, grassroots organizations, and impacted people working to end exploitation and brutality within our prison labor system.
Formerly LaborIsLabor, 13th Forward was formed in 2019 by Worth Rises and the Legal Aid Society. Our steering committee is currently led by Citizen Action of New York, Color Of Change, The Legal Aid Society, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. We are part of the 2021 Justice Roadmap for New York.
For the past two years, we have been working with State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and impacted people to create an equitable prison labor system that incarcerated workers deserve. This includes ending the exception that allows for the forced labor of incarcerated New Yorkers in our state constitution and corrections law, raising wages without unfair garnishments, protecting worker safety and health, and creating job training programs that provide real pathways to employment post release. Our campaign supports the passage of two bills: The Freedom from Forced Labor Act and The Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act.
Call your legislators today to demand their support.
The use of incarcerated people to produce goods and services for little or no wages has existed in New York for over 200 years. Although slavery was abolished in our state in 1827, New York has an insidious exception in our state constitution that continues to require all who are “physically capable” to work for the state under a system that is akin to modern-day slavery.
Today, over 31,000 incarcerated New Yorkers are forced to work under the threat of punishment for as little as $0.10 per hour – before their wages are garnished to pay fines and fees. The majority of these workers earn $0.33 or less per hour staffing hundreds of jobs, from running programming to groundskeeping and laundry – wages that can only be called “slave wages.”
Some incarcerated individuals are assigned to Corcraft prison factories, working jobs described by formerly incarcerated individuals as dangerous and often physically demanding, where they are paid slightly higher wages – no more than $0.65 per hour – to manufacture essential state goods.
NYS Clean Covid-19 protective equipment, Medicaid eyewear, the school desks our public school children sit at, and the office furniture used by the state legislature and NYPD are each made from vastly underpaid labor that is coerced through violence, punishment, and retaliation.
Though the state brings in tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue from this manufacturing enterprise, incarcerated people face exorbitant prices for basic in-prison goods. As a result, one in three families supporting an incarcerated loved one go into debt, according to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and this burden is borne chiefly by communities of color across our state.
A Growing Movement
Since 2018, Utah, Nebraska, and Colorado have removed the prison slave labor provisions in their state constitutions, and there is federal legislation and a growing movement to end the exception in the 13th Amendment.
New York’s state motto is Excelsior – Latin for ever upward. New York must join this movement and finally abolish slavery for good.
Many extraordinary leaders have contributed to this campaign. In particular, the current leadership team thanks Malachi Robinson, Bianca Tylek, Carmela Huang, Megan French-Marcelin, Josh Carrin, Anne Oredeko, Martin Garcia, and Saye Joseph for their incredible contributions.
During the intense heat of the summer of 1894, New York State reached an important milestone toward the complete abolition of slavery.
New York State may once again allow prison inmates to work for private companies.
Civil rights and criminal justice groups held a virtual rally on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 17, to launch their grassroots campaign to raise wages and improve working conditions in New York State prisons.
Vidal Guzman worked as a mason, a porter, and a food server during his four years of incarceration.