American Slavery, Alive and Well: Angola Prisoners Earn $0.02 Per Hour Growing Cotton and Sugarcane
On the site of former slave plantations, Louisiana State Penitentiary continues the tradition of human exploitation.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as Angola, is the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, situated on 18,000 acres of former plantations. Carrying on that tradition of exploitation, every single Angola prisoner - 74 percent of whom are Black - begins their time working in the prison’s fields, growing wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, and milo.
According to a new report from the ACLU, they’re paid two cents for every hour of work. What’s more, any prisoner who isn’t able or willing to perform their work quickly enough is 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 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.”
“Most of my lockdown came from refusing to be a slave… working in fields of corn, etc.,” another Angola prisoner told ACLU. “Free people riding horses with guns telling you to pick this, do that, and/or write you up for disciplinary just because he or she can.”
Prison Enterprises, a division of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, earns over $2.6 million each year selling those crops, according to their 2021 annual report. “Some of the crops harvested are used to support livestock and flight bird operations of Prison Enterprises, but the majority of our crops are sold on the open market,” their website states. Their livestock sales totaled over $1.7 million, making Louisiana workers responsible for over $4.3 million in sales for Prison Enterprises.
Unlike the rest of the country, incarcerated workers are not protected by standard labor laws, including minimum wages, and workplace safety guarantees. Those who refuse to work hazardous jobs are often punished with measures such as solitary confinement, loss of visitation, or even a denial of parole or sentence reduction. At Angola, prisoners reported working with limited access to water, little rest, and no bathrooms. Formerly incarcerated agricultural workers reported seeing others collapse from dehydration or exhaustion while working the fields on hot days.
“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. If states and the federal government can afford to incarcerate 1.2 million people nationwide, they can afford to pay them fairly for their work.”