Monday, June 6, 2016

The Boys in The Bunkhouse: Another story of human slavery in the Heartland of America


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"In 1966, a pilot program at the Abilene State School in Texas moved six developmentally disabled men to a ranch run by T.H. Johnson, who agreed to teach the “boys,” as he called them, basic agricultural skills. They would be paid a pittance and board at the ranch, saving the state money and providing Johnson with a source of very cheap labor. Award-winning New York Times writer and columnist Barry (Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game, 2012, etc.) rivetingly chronicles the lives of these men and 26 more who worked for the irascible Johnson at his turkey processing plant in Texas and, later, in Atalissa, Iowa. From 1974 until 2009, Johnson’s workers, living in filthy, decrepit housing, were paid far below minimum wage, from which room and board were deducted; were denied medical and dental care; and were violently abused by their overseers. Every day, they caught, killed, and gutted turkeys, work, Barry writes, that was “hard…and repetitive, a bloody, filthy, feathery mess.” Along the way, a social worker discovered the “slave-labor camp” and reported the “human-rights horror” to the Iowa Department of Social Services only to be told that the company’s operation—a “for-profit business model with a paternalistic overlay of limited freedoms and routine discipline”—seemed legitimate."

For decades, Hill County Farms, also known as Henry's Turkey Service, housed a group of mentally disabled men in squalor in this former schoolhouse in Atalissa, Iowa. The EEOC won a judgment against the company for exploiting the men.
For decades, Hill County Farms, also known as Henry's Turkey Service, housed a group of mentally disabled men in squalor in this former schoolhouse in Atalissa, Iowa. 
The EEOC won a judgment against the company for exploiting the men.
John Schultz/Quad-City Times/

A 'Wake-Up Call' To Protect Vulnerable Workers From Abuse

Heard on NPR All Things Considered

Read and Listen to the complete report by Yuki Noguchi

Decades Of Abuse, For $2 Per Day
The men had worked at a nearby processing plant, gutting turkeys under the watchful eye of a contractor called Hill County Farms. The contractor was paid to oversee the men's work and living arrangements. The supervisors hit, kicked, handcuffed and verbally abused the men, who were each paid $2 per day. This went on for three decades, affecting 32 men.
Seehase says medical exams later revealed the men suffered from diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, festering fungal infections and severe dental problems that had gone untreated.
It went on and on, she says, because the men knew nothing better and because no one reported the abuse.
"Their life experiences didn't tell them that there was really another option for them," Seehase says. "It's incredibly difficult to try to understand. And I have no explanation. And I don't know who can explain how this really happened."
Kenneth Henry, the owner of Hill County Farms, could not be reached and his attorney didn't respond to requests seeking comment. In testimony, Henry acknowledged paying the men $65 a month, but denied knowing about the neglect or abuse."


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Walk Free Foundation: "Nearly 46 million people estimated to be enslaved worldwide is an increase of 28 percent"

Nearly 46 million people across the globe are living in modern slavery, a system of exploitation that governments and businesses must do more to end, according to the Walk Free Foundation.


The Walk Free Foundation was founded by Andrew and Nicola Forrest and encompasses their vision to end of modern slavery globally. Seed funded by the Forrests’ philanthropic vehicle the Minderoo Foundation, the initiative provides the information and capabilities required for countries to defeat slavery in their jurisdictions. We hope that you will join us in whatever way you can to help end modern slavery once and for all.

The Australia-based rights group on Tuesday released its global slavery index, which tracks the number of people stuck in "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception." The instances include forced labor in farming, fishing and manufacturing, commercial sex work and forced marriage.

"Governments need to look more closely at illicit labor recruitment, crack down on the illegal companies that provide conduit in which people end up in slavery, and penalize the companies and individuals that are using bonded labor, either directly or in their supply chains," the group said in a statement. "At the same time, it is important that we tackle the conditions that drive labor migration by creating opportunities within home countries."

The survey, which was based on 42,000 interviews conducted in 25 countries, found that Asian countries were home to nearly 60 percent of the world’s modern slaves. India was the country with the highest number, 18.3 million, while North Korea had the highest proportion, with 4.3 percent of the population thought to be enslaved, the survey found.

The nearly 46 million people estimated to be enslaved worldwide is an increase of 28 percent from the group’s last survey, though it says that is likely due to better data collection and research methods. The group said progress had been made since its last report, with all countries in Asia except North Korea now having laws criminalizing some forms of modern slavery.

“I believe in the critical role of leaders in government, business and civil society,” Andrew Forrest, the billionaire chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, said in a statement. Forrest is the largest shareholder of iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group. "Businesses that don’t actively look for forced labor within their supply chains are standing on a burning platform," Forrest said.

Monday, July 27, 2015

President Bill Clinton on Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

One day after President Obama decried mass incarceration in a speech before the NAACP convention, President Bill Clinton owned up to his role in expanding the population of America’s prisons.

“Yesterday, President Obama spoke a long time and very well on criminal justice reform,” former president Bill Clinton said. “But I want to say a few words about it. Because I signed a bill that made the problem worse and I want to admit it.”

In 1994, President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which offered states billions in funding for new prisons – but only if they adopted “truth in sentencing laws” that would reduce prisoners’ eligibility for parole. The law also established mandatory life-sentences for people convicted of a third violent felony, among other punitive measures. By the end of the Clinton presidency, the number of people in America’s prisons rose by nearly 60%, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

On Wednesday, Clinton defended many other aspects of his crime bill, including its gun control measures and expansion of funding for municipal police forces and after-school programs.

“The good news is, we had the biggest drop in crime in history,” Clinton said. “The bad news is we had a lot people who were locked up, who were minor actors, for way too long.”

The former president went on to say that while he supports “smarter sentencing,” such changes will not solve “the greater likelihood that young African-American men will be arrested and shot and choked.”
Clinton argued that the police killings of African-American men, and the civil unrest that those killings produce, are both products of an erosion of trust.

“Everyone in America wants safe streets. They want their kids to be safe,” Clinton said. “So we have to not only do this sentencing work, we also have to rebuild law enforcement/community trust.”

The need for legal reform to be matched with cultural change was a central theme of the former president’s speech. By forgiving the “deeply troubled man” who murdered their loved ones, Clinton said that the surviving families of the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church had brought their state together, allowing its citizens to move in the direction of truth and reconciliation.

“Now that the human genome has been sequenced we know we’re all colored people, and it’s about time we started acting like it,” Clinton said. “We’re 99.5% the same … the advancement of colored people is the advancement of all of us.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trafficked: My Story of Surviving, Escaping, and Transcending Abduction into Prostitution by Sophie Hayes

This undated photo provided by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King’s Office shows an advertisement issued by the department. The ad is part of an ongoing effort to educate law enforcement and the public about what it says is the little-known and little understood problem of modern slavery. While many associate the term with the sex trade in Asia or cross-border trafficking, Maria Sanchez-Gagne, an assistant attorney general who oversees King's program to fight human trafficking, says most cases in New Mexico involve U.S. citizens forced into prostitution or labor.

(AP Photo/New Mexico Attorney General’s Office)

A young, educated British woman was spending an idyllic weekend in Italy with her seemingly charming boyfriend she knew for five years. But the day she was supposed to return home, he threatened to kill her younger brothers if she didn’t help him pay off debts. For the next six months, she was forced to work as a prostitute. She wrote a memoir about her escape and how her captor remains at large. This young woman is one of an estimated 20 million people who are trafficked for sex or forced labor worldwide. We talk with her and a panel of guests about new efforts to combat modern slavery.


Sophie Hayes author of "Trafficked: My Story of Surviving, Escaping, and Transcending Abduction into Prostitution." (The name Sophie Hayes is a pseudonym to protect her identity.)

Bradley Myles executive director and CEO, Polaris Project.

Martina Vandenberg president and founder, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center.

Bill Woolf detective, Fairfax County Police

Related Links

National Human Trafficking Toll-Free Hotline

How Many Slaves Work For You?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Yesterday U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a major policy shift for how the Justice department plans to handle mandatory minimum sentencing.

The gist is that Justice will no longer enforce mandatory minimums for low-level drug salesmen. According to the United States Bureau of Prisons, about 48% of the U.S. federal prison population — that's 90,000 people — are in the clink for drug offenses. Many of them are there for a long time due to mandatory minimum sentencing. That may sound like not too many people, but it's important to remember that America — always striving to be #1 — has the highest prisoner to general population rate in the world as a result. Check out this graphic from Reuters that hammers that sad fact home:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sex Trafficking is Modern-Day Slavery (in the news or not)

People who deprive young girls of their freedom for years and years are obviously crazy sickos who need to be put away for life. Nobody’s going to argue about that. Except that for most of history, treating women like they’re ownable was the normal thing to do. In many places in the world, it’s still the normal thing to do. And although they don’t always get the coverage that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are receiving, women are being held against their will all the time in the U.S.

About a month before the voluble Charles Ramsey (who turns out to have been a repeat domestic abuser) was helping to kick down the door to free Berry and her daughter, Julio Cesar Revolorio Ramos of Adelphi, Md., was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for sex trafficking a 15-year-old girl. He was part of a multi-state kidnapping and prostitution ring that has victimized hundreds of women and girls since at least 2008.

And then in New York on April 30, just a week before the Ohio case, seven women were freed when another prostitution ring was broken up and 13 people arrested. Most of the women had been trafficked through Mexico, typically by men whom they believed at the time to be their boyfriends. The U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case allege that the women were beaten, threatened with physical harm to them and their family, sexually assaulted, and verbally abused if they declined to have sex with strangers for money. Or sometimes even if they didn’t. This doesn’t sound all that different from what we know about what happened in Ohio, or in Austria (twice!), or in Utah, or in California or in any of the high profile cases where girls have been kidnapped and held captive for long periods. But unless you’ve been looking, you may not have heard about the rescued prostitutes, even though their story is arguably a bigger one.

Read more:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prison-based gerrymandering in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow

Prison-based gerrymandering in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow
by Leah Sakala, April 10, 2012

In a recent op-ed, Professor Jess Rigelhaupt argues that the Obama administration needs to prioritize ending mass incarceration. He draws on Michelle Alexander’s powerful arguments about how mass incarceration fuels racial inequality in Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow. Both Professor Rigelhaupt and Professor Alexander point to the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in state legislative districts as an example.

As Professor Alexander explains on page 188:

Under the usual-residence rule, the Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of the jurisdiction in which they are incarcerated. Because most new prison construction occurs in predominantly white, rural areas, white communities benefit from inflated population totals at the expense of the urban, overwhelmingly minority communities from which the prisoners come. This has enormous consequences for the redistricting process. White rural communities that house prisons wind up with more people in state legislatures representing them, while poor communities of color lose representatives because it appears their population has decreased. This policy is disturbingly reminiscent of the three-fifths clause in the original Constitution, which enhanced the political clout of slaveholding states by including 60 percent of slaves in the population base for calculating Congressional seats and electoral votes, even through they could not vote.

Her book provides a comprehensive picture of how mass incarceration is jeopardizing our democratic system and our wellbeing as a nation.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the parallels between prison-based gerrymandering and the infamous three-fifths clause, check out John Drake’s new journal article, “Locked Up and Counted Out: Bringing an End to Prison-based Gerrymandering,” or my blog post about prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin.