Incarcerated persons in Colorado have been written up hundreds of times for refusing to work despite a recent constitutional ban on forced labor in prisons, reported 9NEWS.
Work refusal occurred at 20 state facilities resulting in over 700 instances where residents received “failure-to-work” notations.
“Offenders are informed of the potential consequences of refusing to work or attend assigned programs, including, but not limited to: restricted privileges, loss of other privileges, delayed parole hearing date, and not being eligible for earned time,” reported the June 25, 2023 article.
Citizens passed legislation in 2018 removing the slavery exception from the Colorado Constitution so that involuntary servitude could no longer be used as punishment for crimes.
The Colorado Department of Correction’s former Executive Director Dean Williams and Gov. Jared Polis have been sued by incarcerated persons for allegedly violating the Colorado Constitution, according to the article.
“In the years after the passage of Amendment A, the state has continued to require and compel incarcerated individuals to work under conditions amounting to involuntary servitude and under threats of punishments that include being cut off from contact with family and being socially isolated under conditions that approximate solitary confinement,” wrote Valerie Collins, an attorney representing the incarcerated.
The complaint also included the fact that non-compliant incarcerated persons were threatened with reduced “earned time” — an incentive for earlier parole. Attorneys for the state responded by writing that removing incentives is not the same as forced labor.
“By awarding privileges to inmates who comply with programming [including work requirements], and denying privileges to inmates who refuse to work, CDOC is incentivizing work and programming compliance consistent with the will of the voters,” wrote State Attorney Ann Stanton.
“I think that their refusal was a protest,” said Taj Ashaheed, a reentry advocate who was formerly incarcerated in Colorado. He also said that people refuse to work not out of laziness but because they desire a job that is meaningful.
“I cannot comment on the lawsuit given that it is an ongoing case,” wrote CDOC spokesperson Annie Skinner, according to 9NEWS. “However, the court has already dismissed the plaintiffs’ facial constitutional claims, holding that ‘the challenged statutes and administrative regulations themselves do not force incarcerated persons to participate in involuntary servitude.’”
In 2022, a District Court judge ruled that threatening isolation or physical punishment for not working may be considered unconstitutional but that taking away privileges or earned good time may be allowed, the article reported.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they intend to appeal the ruling.