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Sheriff work crews AKA coerced labor

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

At the 10/11 Sac City Council meeting the councilmembers chose to extend the City's agreement with the Sac County Sheriff's Work Project Program by voting to approve item 18 - Renewal Agreement: Sacramento County Sheriff’s Work Project Program.

What IS this Work Project Program?

According to the Sac Sheriff's Office (SSO) page - linked here - "The Work Release Division is Sacramento County's alternative sentencing program for inmates. It allows qualified inmates to serve their sentences on electronically monitored Home Detention, or by participating in community work projects."

It continues to state...

"The community benefits from inmate labor provided to groups such as school and park districts, churches, civic groups, and other non-profit organizations. The County benefits from reduced jail population and incarceration costs. There is also a cost recovery benefit, as inmate participants are required to pay application and daily fees."

Remember that tidbit about charging inmates to participate, it'll come up again later.

So what's up with the item (18) brought before the 10/11 Council meeting?

Well, according to the meeting doc (linked here) the Work Project Program that was seeking renewal serves to:

provide work crews to help maintain and clean city parks, as well as providing labor for homeless camp cleanup. This program involves inmates who are required to perform community service work

It is further explained in the doc that:

The agreement provides a very cost-effective means of accomplishing these services since the City pays the County's costs to supervise the work crew, but does not pay for any work performed by the work crews

So, to be clear, not only does this program neglect to pay these sentenced members of our community any kind of compensation, it actually CHARGES them to participate. Even if you are to accept the SSO's premise that performing this "community service" is an acceptable alternative to being forced into jail time, it is available ONLY to those who are able to pay the requisite fees. That doesn't really seem like a program designed to assist in jail population reduction, or to effectively reintegrate folx who have been sentenced into the community, does it? It seems a lot more like an opportunity for the SSO to make money and continue to over-incarcerate without paying for people to stay in a jail cell.

ALSO, folx in these programs are most likely to be "low-level offenders", in other words, a population of "offenders" heavily plagued by the racial profiling that disproportionately disenfranchises BIPOC community members.

'Community' solutions like this don't actually do anything to reduce the overreach of law enforcement in our communities. Rather, they just increase the number of people the SSO is able watch and criminalize without needing to keep them in a brick-and-mortar facility

In brief, programs like this one are a form of prison labor, as defined by the 2022 "Captive Labor" report by the ACLU on this topic - linked here. See item 3, below.

A first-of-its-kind study was released in 2019 from researches at the University of California, Los Angeles that closely examined the practice of "court ordered community service" within LA County.

You can read the full report here.

You can read a report summary from The Guardian here.

The summary, pictured below (pulled from The Guardian article), regarding the paper concisely illustrates the exploitative nature of these "programs" and the deceptive way they are marketed and pushed as narratives of progressive change. Really, this type of labor does nothing but continue to further marginalize the already vulnerable populations that become ensnared in our broken legal system.

*to this author's knowledge there is no research assessing programs such as this in the Sacramento area

For the time being, it seems that it will be business as usual for the SSO's labor program and its relationship with the City of Sacramento.


Nov 17, 2022

That's just BS, but what's even worse - the Sheriff's work project absolutely refuses to allow the disabled into the program, if an applicant is on SSI or SSDI they are automatically rejected, meaning a fair number of people will sit in jail rather than get the opportunity to do their time through the work crew as bad as it is.

SJPC editor
SJPC editor
Nov 18, 2022
Replying to

Right! That's a great point I wasn't even able to address, just how ableist programs like these are, and how they are so incredibly far from equal access

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