Should Prisoners Be Paid Minimum Wage? (video)

Reframing Justice

The minimum wage in Arizona is $12 per hour. Arizona prisoners do a variety of jobs from manual labor to answering phones for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), for which they are paid anywhere between 10 cents to $3 per hour. The ADOT Service Arizona call center workers are the highest paid prisoners, but $3 per hour is far less than minimum wage.

Why should prisoners be paid more? 1) Because many of the prisoners have families “on the outside” who depended upon support from that person “on the inside”. 2) Because the prison industrial complex and the state of Arizona not only pay substandard wages to prisoners, they nickel and dime them and their families with fees. Yes, people “on the inside” and people “on the outside” pay fees to Corporate America and to government(s). The problem is that most prisoners lived in poverty before they went to prison, and their families likely don’t have the financial float to sustain them without a wage-earner and pay fees to stay in contact with their loved one.

The State of Arizona eliminated the Parole Board back in 1993, when “tough on crime” and “truth in sentencing” were vogue. Add this to the fact that the Republican-controlled Legislature jumped enthusiastically into private prisons during the Tea Party Reign of Terror.

Now, Arizona forces prisoners to serve 80 percent of their sentences (regardless of rehabilitation, good behavior or cost), imposes unnecessary fees for basic services to prisoners (like making an appointment with the doctor or having phone privileges to talk with their families), forces them to work nearly free to pay fees for services and necessities (like a second orange jumpsuit), and allows the Prison Industrial Complex to make millions on them while they are warehoused unnecessarily for years. When families visit prisoners, they can’t bring food in (because there could be a file in that cake), so they have to buy food from vending machines. You can imagine how much a family with children would spend on unhealthy vending machine food in a day at the prison. Loved ones come to the prison with $40 in quarters to buy substandard food while visiting. Prisoners (and their families) pay millions per year in concessions and fees to the Prison Industrial Complex– in addition to losing loved ones to an unjust system in an unjust state, which *eliminated* the Parole Board. People who signed “25 to life” plea bargains are being cheated by the State of Arizona. Five hundred inmates have served 25 years of a “25 to life” sentence and are now just sitting in prison because there is no parole. The least we can do is pay them for their labor. 

But even better, why not fix the prison system? Arizona locks up too many people for too long. In 2019, there was a lot of bipartisan enthusiasm for real prison reform. Unfortunately, a handful of powerful men stopped reform.

Many prison reforms are needed. For example, Arizona law used to state that for every two days of work a prisoner could get one day off of their sentence for good behavior. Years ago, the law was changed, and now prisoners have to work six days in order to get one day off. (We tried to change that back to 2:1 in 2019, but it was stopped by powerful Republican Legislators.) Not only are we paying slave wages, we are requiring prisoners to work much longer at these slave wages to get any benefit (besides some spending money). I learned today on Reframing Justice Day at the Capitol that since there is no Parole Board, prisoners have no good way of tracking their work time, besides the fact that parole has pretty much been eliminated. They also said that Arizona’s Clemency Board pretty much doesn’t do clemency. (What kind of medieval state do we live in?)

This is inhumane, unfair, and extremely expensive in terms of lost human capital, disrupted families,  out-of-pocket costs, and societal distress from children living without parents.

Who benefits from forcing prisoners to work years for very little money? Corporate America — and governments who want to save money– benefit. As long as there is a steady supply of workers who are forced to work for far less than minimum wage– like prisoners, migrants and university interns (who work for free), families will struggle, while corporations make money and governments save money, at their expense.

It’s time for all Arizona workers — regardless if where they live — to be paid minimum wage or more. Not less. Also, earned release and mandatory sentencing laws should be fixed. We shouldn’t be warehousing people unnecessarily.

Really… system-wide prison reform is necessary. I learned a lot about prisons during the interim. I participated in an Arizona Town Hall dialogue with prisoners at the Whetstone prison on South Wilmot and attended a Lucha Listens session with prisoners and family members. The stories are compelling. We need to listen and fix the system.

There are some modest reform bills in the Legislature. Will a handful of men stop reform again in 2020? If so, we can fix that problem in November 3, 2020.

‘Democracy in Chains’ Connects Dots on Libertarian & Republican Strategies (video)

Affordable Care Act

If you often scratch your head at the bad bills that the Republicans pass in Congress and in the state legislatures and wonder what their end game is, you should read Democracy in Chains by Nancy McClean.

What you may think are random bad ideas that have somehow gotten into law are actually part of a grand scheme that has been playing out since Brown versus the Board of Education attempted to desegregate public schools in the United States.

An academic, McClean has studied the articles, books and letters of James Buchanan, the economist not the former president. Buchanan was the primary theorist of public choice theory. In the 1950s, public choice theory was used as a rationale to close all of the public schools in the state of Virginia (rather than comply with desegregation) and is being used today to support state-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. In Virginia in the 1950s, the state gave money to white parents for private school vouchers and allowed hundreds of black children to go uneducated for years. Needless to say, this was a travesty of justice.

Continue reading ‘Democracy in Chains’ Connects Dots on Libertarian & Republican Strategies (video)

#AZ House Republicans Pass $7.25/hour Minimum Wage for Students (video)

The worst vote of the 54th session has to be the Republican passage of the sub-minimum wage on Thursday. Rep. Travis Grantham’s HB2523 would allow employers to pay full time students, who work part time and are under 22, the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, instead of the voter-approved minimum wage of $11/hour.

Republicans and Democrats debated HB2523 for more than one hour the day before during Committee of the Whole (COW) and again when we explained our votes on Thursday. It passed on a strictly party line vote.

After mulling over the speeches from both sides of the aisle, I think there are some of the Republicans who truly believe paying $7.25/hour to full-time students is good idea. I wonder how many of them own restaurants, farms, retail stores, or other small businesses that would benefit from cheaper labor. Hmmm…

This vote needed 3/4 on HB2523 because it is an attempt to change the voter-approved Prop 206 Citizens Initiative that raised the minimum wage in 2016. During the COW debate, I proposed an amendment to add a Prop 105 vote to HB2523, but Republicans said it was not necessary. (The Rules Attorneys said it was necessary. Who are you going to believe?)

Continue reading #AZ House Republicans Pass $7.25/hour Minimum Wage for Students (video)

Know Your Candidates before You Vote

Pamela Powers Hannley

Residents of Legislative District 9 have a clear choice for Arizona House. Two Democrats Rep. Randy Friese and Pamela Powers Hannley are running against Tea Party candidate Ana Henderson.

The Clean Elections debate revealed major differences between Henderson’s extreme Tea Party positions and the two Democrats’ views.

To simplify your voting decision, I revised my ven diagram (below) comparing where I stand on the issues and where Henderson stands.

Continue reading Know Your Candidates before You Vote

LD9 Debate Recap (video)

LD9 candidates

About 50 LD9 residents and Democratic Party regulars attended the Clean Elections primary debate on June 28 with candidates Dr. Randy Friese, Matt Kopec, and me. (The hour-long event was taped by the Clean Elections Commission.)

The debate had an interesting format– much better, in my opinion, that some of those free-ranging presidential debates where each candidate was asked a different question, making it difficult to compare candidates. The format was: one-minute intros, a set of questions that everyone answered (two minutes each), a set of questions written by audience members and addressed to specific candidates or to anyone (one minute each), and one-minute wrap-ups. (Our audience was very involved and submitted many good questions.)

The debate gave me an opportunity to explain my sustainable economic development ideas  and talk about my background and other ideas. Here is the excerpt about economic development (29:33 mark):

Economic reform is a big part of my platform. Everything in my platform either raises money or saves money to pay for the things we want like quality education, a solid infrastructure, and good-paying jobs. Public banking is a big part of it, but it’s not the whole part. I really believe that we have suffered under the failed economic policies of trickle down economics and austerity. So, we have largesse for the 1% and austerity for the 99%.

With the idea of public banking, we could bring all or part of our tax dollars back from Wall Street and invest it on Main Street.

Continue reading LD9 Debate Recap (video)