Albany, N.Y. (WHAM) - A bill that would raise the minimum wage for inmates in state prisons is moving through the New York State Senate.
The Prison Minimum Wage Act would raise the wage made by inmates from its current level to $3.00 an hour. On average, inmates in New York state prisons earn approximately $0.52 an hour; some earn as little as $0.10. States such as Nevada, Alaska, Maine, and Kansas already have a requirement for inmates to be paid $3.00 an hour.
The bill would require any inmate to be paid the new wage, regardless of whether they work in a prison, for a non-profit organization, for work release, or a residential treatment facility.
Inmates manufacture license plates, janitorial supplies, and office furniture through their work at Corcraft. Corcraft, an organization within the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, employs approximately 2,100 inmates at 14 different facilities, according to a 2014 NYS DOCCS report.
In the bill, New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie (D-20) referred to forced prison labor as an "institutional descendant of slavery".
"New York State must do better," a section of the text of the bill reads. "Our prison system should not be one which is focused on punishment; rather, it should be dedicated to rehabilitation. The overwhelming majority of inmates are released after they have paid their debt to society. By providing inmates a minimum wage of $3.00, it will afford them the opportunity to have earnings when they are released, allowing them the ability to better re-integrate into society, potentially reducing the recidivism rate, making New York a safer place, and demonstrating that New York State will no longer be a participant in act which attributes its origins to our greatest sin."
Three Democratic state senators are co-sponsoring the legislation, which is currently in committee.
Some Republican state senators blasted the proposal, calling it "unbelievable."
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo issued a statement Thursday afternoon, calling on Albany to "get its priorities straight."
It is hard to imagine that Legislators from New York City are proposing to give a big pay raise to prisoners at the same time Albany is slated to cut funding for important services like public safety, parks, and road repairs. Last month the Governor presented a budget that guts a program called AIM, which would eliminate funding for 28 of our 29 Monroe County towns and villages, cutting over $3.3 million in support for these services here. Today I am calling on Albany to get its priorities straight – do not pass a budget that raises pay for prisoners without first fully-funding our towns and villages to protect local services and taxpayers.
If approved, the wage increase would be implement within 180 days of the bill being signed into law.