• Sarah Gersten

New York is using prison labor to fight the spread of coronavirus

Cuomo announces the NYS Clean program at a press conference on Monday

Across the country fears over the novel coronavirus have caused shortages of products like toilet paper, face masks, and hand sanitizer. This week, Governor Cuomo announced that New York state is addressing the hand sanitizer shortage by producing its own line of sanitizer: NYS Clean. The state will distribute the product to schools, local governments, and other public entities free of charge. As cases spike in the state, this could be a critical containment measure. The problem? The state is using prison labor and paying inmates as low as $0.16 an hour to do it.

NYS Clean is being produced by Corcraft, a division of the state prison system that utilizes inmate labor to manufacture products that are sold primarily to state and local government agencies. Corcraft employees – all inmates in state prison – are paid a starting wage of 16 cents per hour and a maximum wage of 65 cents per hour, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Service.

On top of these exploitative labor practices, inmates themselves are barred from using the product. (Most prison facilities restrict access to hand sanitizer due to the alcohol content.) This is particularly troubling since prison conditions including tight quarters, lack of access to cleaning supplies and medical care, leave prisoners at a higher risk for viral outbreaks.

This troubling tactic for addressing the spread of the virus has caused state lawmakers to renew calls to pass the Prison Minimum Wage Act which stalled during last year’s legislative session, never making it to a vote.


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