Man Forced to Work in Prison Sues Under Anti-Slavery Amendment

The Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility does not only house inmates awaiting trial. Unlike larger states, where county jails house the accused and state prisons house convicts, Vermont's correctional system mixes the two.

In a separate lawsuit he filed while he was in jail, McGarry's chief concern was not the Constitution; it was getting injunctive relief to prevent the state from forcing him to do more labor. During his 14-hour shifts, he said, he was unable to contact his public defender, causing him to fear that his case would not be handled properly. Other pretrial detainees had similar concerns, he said.

As a result of his lawsuit, which became moot upon his release, prison officials placed a hold on him to allow him to avoid labor, though he was still mistakenly forced to work on two occasions.

While all inmates may be expected to clean up their cells or wipe down tables in the mess hall, Greene said, the poorly paid, unsafe work McGarry alleged he was forced to do may have crossed a legal boundary.

"There is no distinct line here," Greene said. "But the closer [the job] gets to being something you do as part of the group, the more likely it is to be upheld by a court. The further away you get -- like being subjected to something unusual or forced labor -- it sounds like he might very well have a legitimate claim here."

Greene said that, in the past, the lower federal courts have rejected claims that general housekeeping prisons required of inmates qualified as forced labor, but the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on cases involving additional labor, like McGarry's laundry work.

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