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As many have noted, the rise of the American carceral state has coincided with the demise of slavery, leading many others to note that burgeoning prison populations have replaced forcible servitude based on race. In some ways, this is framed as a positive and redemptive story, like California inmates being paid $1 an hour to fight forest fires. In other, worse ways, it looks more like work at the end of a whip, like extorted labor from inmates at private immigration detention centers.

Either way, few law enforcement officials have so nakedly admitted to wanting to retain inmates as a source of cheap labor as Louisiana Sheriff Steve Prator. In the face of the Bayou State passing a set of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing the prison population, Sheriff Prator expressed his interest in keeping "good prisoners" incarcerated: "In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they're releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchens, to do all that where we save money."

So which inmates should we be interested in releasing, and should the amount or value of their labor factor into that decision?

Two years ago, as fourteen wildfires engulfed almost 250,000 acres in California during a historic drought, we wondered whether prison inmates should really be making up 30 percent of the firefighting force in the Golden State. This week, after 41 fatalities and almost 150,000 scorched acres in Napa, Sonoma, and Yuba counties, the question isn't so much whether inmates should be fighting forest fires, but whether they should be paid more to do so.

The American Bar Association is reporting that almost 4,000 inmates in California are getting paid $1 an hour to clear and maintain fire containment lines. One bonus? For every day spent battling blazes, "incarcerated" fire fighters can shave two days off their prison sentence.

The involvement of private enterprise in the criminal justice system has expanded beyond private prisons to include parole and probation monitoring and rehabilitation services. But one Louisiana judge and private, pretrial supervision company have taken things too far, according to an ACLU lawsuit, charging arrestees an additional fee on top of their posted bail in order to be released from jail.

The suit alleges that Judge Trudy White has forced individuals arrested and held at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to pay Rehabilitation Home Incarceration an extra $525 to secure their release, a process ACLU attorney Brandon Buskey calls "a court-approved shakedown."

A judge out of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an order to the state's prisons to cool down the institutions to 88 degrees. Quoting the great Russian social fiction author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Judge Keith Ellison explained: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Entering a Texas prison, especially during the Summer, might not be much different than entering a sauna. Temperatures, in the areas that do not have air conditioning, regularly soar over 100 degrees. For the inmates that have to suffer through the sweltering heat, the available relief is insufficient. To fight the department that has, for decades, refused to get the inmates out of the heat, a lawsuit had to be filed.

Prison labor is nothing new. Inmates have jobs inside and out, at best to provide some reprieve from the boredom of incarceration and a few dollars in the commissary account, and at worst to provide free or barely-compensated labor to prisons or communities. Inmates, infamously, have even worked in governors' mansions. Much of the justification for prison labor comes from the fact that inmates have been found guilty of a crime and have the option to support their housing and repay their debt to society.

But what about immigration inmates who've not been convicted of a crime? And what about forced or extorted labor for which the inmates are not compensated? And what if all that labor goes to a private prison rather than the public?

A recent federal court decision out of Tennessee is making headlines due to the impact it could have on inmates diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the state's correctional facilities. The decision grants class certification to the lawsuit, which means that the case can proceed to prove the allegations as a class action case and represent the class of over 3,000 inmates with the disease.

The case seeks an institution-wide change to the way inmates with Hepatitis C are treated while in custody. The case alleges that the denial of appropriate medical care is a violation of the Eighth Amendment which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment, including the denial of medical care or provision of inadequate medical care.

There was no question that Darren Rainey died in the showers of the Dade Correctional Institution in 2012. What was unanswered was whether the officers who locked Rainey for two hours in showers that could run as hot at 160 degrees were criminally liable for his death.

That answer came last month, when the state attorney for Miami-Dade County released an "In Custody Death Investigation Close-Out Memo" that attributed Rainey's death to schizophrenia, heart disease, and "confinement inside the shower room." Yet the state attorney declined to press criminal charges against the officers or the prison, saying instead that "the evidence does not show that Rainey's well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff."

A federal district court has approved the settlement of a class action stemming from what was effectively the operation of a debtors' prison. In Alexander City, Alabama, the courts were jailing people for their inability to pay court imposed fines. That is, until the Southern Poverty Law Center got involved and was able to achieve a significant settlement.

In addition to changes in policy allowing court debtors to pay off fines through community service, the city will pay approximately $680,000 in settlement to those wrongfully incarcerated, $500 per day of incarceration per class member.

Of all the places to give birth, jail sounds the least appealing. While jails and prisons in every state are required to provide medical care for their inmates, the way pregnancy and birth are handled varies quite a bit from state to state. Perhaps one of the most shocking practices that is allowed in over half the states is restraining or shackling an expectant mother, even while in labor, to the bed.

When it comes to questionable policies, it doesn't end there either. Some states only provide 24 hours of bonding time with the newborn, while others may provide for 48 or 72 hours. Only 10 states have programs that allow mothers to stay with the newborns beyond 72 hours, with New York being the most generous, allowing up to four years. Despite solid medical evidence that allowing newborns and mothers to have continued contact benefits both mother and child, most states do not have nursery programs, nor the means to provide childcare.

Unfortunately, despite the policies and duties that are in place, all too often, due to the deliberate indifference of correctional officers or prison administration, inmate pregnancies can go horribly wrong.

The United States Department of Justice announced this week that it will phase out its use of private prisons for federal convicts. A DOJ memo noted that private prisons offered fewer rehabilitative programs and resources, were less safe, and cost just as much as Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities.

The move away from private prisons could be a huge landmark in federal criminal justice, and could influence state use of private prisons as well.