For Pre-trial inmates forced labour is clearly a violation of a prisoner’s rights. My own perspective is that all prison labour is slavery — this case, however, is a start.
McGarry had no such sentence. He was certainly facing grievous charges—he had allegedly discharged a gun in his home while threatening to kill his family, then turned his anger on a school official.
But McGarry was still awaiting trial. He had yet to be convicted.
Upward of 1,000 inmates trapped in jail pre-trial posed little to no danger to the public—more than five percent of the county jail population. They were simply being held because they were too poor to pay for bail.
Eventually, McGarry relented and chose to work in the laundry rather than face a prolonged and brutal spell in “the hole.” During the course of his work, McGarry says he contracted a serious MRSA lesion on his neck—a potentially deadly bacterial infection.
McGarry’s charges were ultimately dropped, and he was released. In 2009, he pressed a suit against his former captors in Brattleboro, Vermont, federal court for $11 million—claiming he was made a slave in violation of his 13th Amendment rights. The Brattleboro judge ruled that McGarry’s constitutional rights had not been violated, but that finding was overturned on appeal last week.
McGarry’s suit brings new life to the issue of pre-trial detention—the incarceration of people who are awaiting trial, yet to be convicted of a crime—which was already mired with debate and controversy.