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Pants Down: Prisoners Work Unpaid Wearing Sweatshop-Made Garb 

Wednesday, May 30 2012

Earlier this month, the Examiner revealed that the city outfitted its prisoners in jail pants manufactured in a Dominican plant purportedly guilty of a bevy of sweatshop violations.

In running afoul of the Sweatfree Contracting Ordinance, the city has been caught with its (presumably non-sweatshop) pants down. Did you know that San Francisco has a Sweatfree Procurement Advisory Group? Now you do. Ignore the SPAG at your own peril.

Left unsaid in the Ex, however, is the fact that prisoners — outfitted in duds produced by sweatshop laborers paid a pittance — are performing labor within the jail and not being paid at all.

The jail's "inmate workers" perform a variety of tasks, such as helping to prepare and distribute meals, remove food trays, clean up in the kitchen, laundry, and general cleaning. Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Susan Fahey confirms that they are not remunerated a cent. There may be no free lunch — but there certainly are inmate workers to deliver lunches for free.

"The inmates do not get compensated," Fahey says. But that doesn't mean that our incarcerated, unpaid floor cleaners are complaining. "Lots of people prefer to be doing that [so they can] be doing something. It gets you out of your daily routine. It's something to do."

She stressed that inmate workers are not forced to perform manual labor — this is a wholly voluntary position. And, unlike state prisoners, San Francisco shut-ins are not involved in any sort of official labor program. It's not exactly Scared Straight — but perhaps at-risk youths could be persuaded to do things differently if they learned that jail is so deathly dull that people actually volunteer to push a broom or clean off a food tray, just to have something to do.

Speaking of at-risk youths, that's who now staffs the San Bruno jail's 14-acre organic farm, which is designed not just to raise healthy food but to give the kids hands-on skills and a more rewarding experience than toting a tray. Neither prisoners nor at-risk youths, however, are sewing together their own pants. If a Dominican sweatshop raised the city's red flags, imagine what underaged/jail-produced clothing would do.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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