County Provides Slave Labor

• a person who works very hard without proper remuneration…

The Civil War may have ended slavery, but not in Ada County where children are working without pay at a commercial retail establishment.

The GUARDIAN has received a complaint of slave labor–literally–right here in Ada County. It is a serious matter in need of outside investigation with children being forced to work at a private business–without pay–as part of sentences by at least one 4th District judge.

We heard from parents of a youth sentenced to 60 hours of “community service” after pleading guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. He joined other youths doing cleaning and janitorial work at a local store.

It is located in a retail storefront strip mall in Boise. In every sense it is a private commercial for-profit enterprise. For the record, the youth offender liked the people who run the business and they gave him a nice “thank you” letter after he completed his court mandated sentence.

Few dare complain about getting a “good deal” when it comes to a work-related sentence from the court. However, if the youth offenders fail to do the work (violate the terms of probation) they face detention in a locked facility.

The issue of a business receiving county authorized free labor certainly raises questions of unfair competition to other businesses forced to pay minimum wages, worker comp, social security tax, and with hold income tax.

We talked to numerous officials knowledgeable of various adult inmate labor programs as well as juvenile detention and community service. Every single one told us inmate labor–adult or juvenile–was to be used ONLY at public or community based nonprofit venues such as parks, museums, schools, or places like homeless shelters and soup kitchens. We assume the food bank would qualify for instance.

The GUARDIAN finds it outrageous for Ada County authorities to provide child labor to PRIVATE BUSINESSES without charge to the business or pay to the children involved. The liability issues–for both the business and the county are huge.

Who pays if the child is injured at the private business? Who pays if the child breaks equipment or injures someone else? Who actually offers up the labor of these children to the businesses?

We find it hard to understand why Judge William Harrigfeld would allow a business to use the labor of minors passing through his court for the benefit of a commercial enterprise. As sentencing judge he should know where and how his orders are being carried out.

The GUARDIAN feels this matter warrants an investigation of the juvenile system in Ada County. The single question that needs to be asked is, “Does Ada County provide free youth labor to private businesses?”

We know the answer, now we need to know if anyone in authority knows.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Public entities assisting for profit enterprise enabling that enterprise to increase its profit is unethical and surely illegal. Judge Harrigfeld is a fine well liked albeit new judge. I’d be shocked if he had any knowledge that juvenile corrections allowed this to happen. I’m sure he’ll look into it though.

  2. Boise Banker
    Sep 28, 2007, 4:29 pm

    I would have to agree that unfairly giving “free” labor to private businesses is not within the means of the law.

    To play Devils Advocate, there are times when inmate labor is used to construct or clean up various things around the community. This sounds harmless but because they are not paid the bids for inmate labor can be significantly lower than that of regular businesses. This causes lost contracts and revenues. How is it fair to the businesses that the judicial system can provide cheap labor and out bid regular business for contracts?

    By no means am I taking sides, it is just something to think about.

    What I am going to take a side on is that the sentence for a convicted drug user was way too soft. Idaho has rampant drug problems and the judicial system isn’t doing anyone any favors by just slapping the wrists of teens who are going to ruin their life and the lives of those around them. The kid should have been locked up where he has no access to go back to drugs for absolutely no less than one year. It allows for a detoxification period and it also helps to break ties to the “friends” that helped to supply the drugs.

    I personally have seen kids I grew up with in this same situation. All of them got slapped on the wrist and all have spent their adult lives in and out of jail and rehab. If the drug ties aren’t broken early they never will be. The most efficient way to do this is to keep them locked up long enough to get everything out of the system and long enough to see that the “friends” that helped to lead them to drugs never visit them or support them and were not their “true friends.”

    EDITOR NOTE–Inmate labor is used–or should be used–strictly on public projects. Contrary to your theiry, it SAVES public money and improves the quality of life for SOCIETY…inmate crews even fight fires. They do not work in the private sector.

  3. Dr Spielvogel
    Sep 28, 2007, 4:54 pm

    I believe a full investigation will also uncover that adults sentenced to Community Service are at least sometimes sent to for-profit organizations who might have some remote claim to be a “community service”

  4. Boise Banker,
    The USA has more locked up people per capita than any other nation in the world. Is it working?
    Sounds to me like you think slave labor is OK
    How about locking up the supposedly self regulatedlenders who helped ruin our economy with sub-prime risky loans causing rampant unemployment, so they can’t buddy up at the golf club trading lending secrets with their mortgage bundling friends? Would that work?

    What about perverts in public bathrooms? Should Larry Craig be locked up even longer if he is found guilty again after pleading guilty?

    What about politicians who start wars based on fabricated lies? What should we do with them?

  5. The drug war is a ridiculous waste of time and money. Decriminalization and treatment for those who need it are the only humane and realistic ways to deal with drug abuse. Consider the resources used in the 829,627 marijuana arrests in the US last year, is it possible that there is a better use of that energy? How many violent nut jobs are released from prisons crowded with non-violent drug offenders? Locking people up does NOTHING to curb or treat addictions but only fuels the growing prison industry. If you think people can’t get drugs in prison, you’re sadly mistaken.

    This whole story is a perfect example of the failure of our national drug policies and the manipulation of the “justice” system for profit by the private sector. This serves neither the community nor the “offender”. Too bad this is rarely discussed in a serious and productive manner. There is definitely such a thing as “Reefer Madness”, but it’s not on the part of the user.

  6. Usually I agree with your articles even if we differ slightly in our attitude about growth. With this issue, however, I don’t see why this is such a problem.

    I LIKE the idea of the judge allowing juvenile offenders to serve their community service with businesses. First of all, the kids get exposed to a healthier way of life and future job prospects. I doubt a few teenaged offenders are going to end up being serious competition in the labor market. Plus I project that these jobs would be considered more ‘make work’ projects rather than something a business owner would hire another person to do.

    I also like that businesses are stepping forward to help the at-risk youth in our community. Kudos to the business owners who are willing to take the risk. As for liability coverage, if the kid is injured the business owner’s policy (liability, not workman’s comp) will cover whatever the child’s primary medical insurance doesn’t. I really don’t see an issue on that point.

    As for the pay, it isn’t like the kids are going to get paid anyway. And once their sentence is satisfied, they will be ‘set free’.

    Lastly, if my kid were to receive such a sentence, I would consider ourselves lucky if s/he could perform their community service by doing odd jobs at a local business. My kid would be kept away from a rougher ‘work program’ jail population, both juvenile and adult. For an at-risk kid, the last thing they need is exposure to others would are more than willing to teach them more about the life of crime.

    EDITOR NOTe–Parent tells us there were “about seven other offenders” working at the place, that’s why he wanted to work there…to be with his buddies.

  7. sounds like a chain-store-gang….a modern version of the old South’s chain-gang where the warden reaps the profit of the labor of the inmates.

    Who is the warden here – look into it. Does Ada County get paid or is this just one of those “good old boy” freeby’s? Either way, I hope that it explodes!!

  8. Question: If there are so many canidates for alternative sentencing, that there is a surplus, or perhaps it would be too costly for county paid employees to supervise them all…then is it acceptable to turf some to the private sector for some well earned manual labor? (the fact that it is in front of their friends at the mall is a bonus…)

    Dont know if there is an actual surplus, but it isnt hard to imagine. And I bet if you had to supervise everyone of them with a county employ, deputy or otherwise, it may drive up the cost of the program beyond the judicial budgets.

    No blood no foul I say…hardly slave labor. Maybe procedurely incorrect, but hardly the “slave labor” or the great conspiracy you make it out to be.
    Lots of bigger fish to fry IMHO.

    Go to third world countries and look at those sweet shops…thats slave labor!

    If it was up to me, I would use alternative sentacing much more often. I would have them pulling janitor duty at their schools, at BSU clean up after the games, or out on the farms of Idaho doing REAL labor.

    By the way, inmate labor is good for manual labor only. I have seen the use of inmate labor for more complex projects and lets say the ..uhm…quality and motivation (or lack there of) shows.

  9. Dr Spielvogel
    Sep 28, 2007, 6:50 pm

    Boise Banker,
    Thanks for acknowledging that redemption is not part of our penal system but retribution sure is. Prison is a sure way to make a youngster a hard core druggie during your mythical drying out period which does not include much more than meals and pot to piss in.

  10. Nemo–
    My friend volunteers at Life’s Kitchen, a non-profit that helps kids at risk and he was told by the juvenile probation people there were “no community service offenders available,” to help out.

    Do you think the business owners have submitted to drug and background tests? Does the county even check where they place these children?

  11. Whew! When I read the first part (SLAVE— • a person who works very hard without proper remuneration…) I thought you were going to whine about how hard the Guardian blogger works!

    Seriously, I think you’ve latched onto a good one here. The term is “community service,” not “private enterprise service.”
    However, if I were running a business, I’d love to have some free labor. Maybe they could even manage to arrest a few people who have experience in stocking shelves or being cashiers.

    I’m wondering, though, whether perhaps the business doesn’t get free labor — is it possible the business is paying something for this help, but the money goes to someone somewhere along the line who sets it up? If not, how does this “someone” decide which of the hundreds of business will get the slaves. I think there’s something really smelly here.

    As for someone’s question about Larry Craig: If he’s still held guilty, he should be given community service cleaning public rest rooms … and especially picking up any paper off the floor.

  12. ifihadahammer
    Sep 29, 2007, 4:44 pm

    The banker’s idea of jail time for drug offenders is laughable. Our jails are so crowded and 80% are there because of drug-related charges. This is not the answer, obviously. Alternative sentencing, TREATMENT Centers and education are possible answers.

    But I don’t like the idea of free work at a for-profit business. There are all kinds of non-profit groups such as the Humane Society, help for the homeless and countless other groups who are crying for volunteer help. I would like to see this subject investigated and new guidelines established as to what kind of businesses can utilize this free labor.

  13. Nemo,
    You sound absolutly convinced about the benefit to society of using juvenile parolees as labor in private businesses. I don’t know what business you own or where you work but lets suppose you own a competing business with me. We offer the same service to the same customer base. (It is called competition in case you didn’t know) I get a steady supply of low cost/no cost free labor every day, to do my grunt work from the county parole office “Community Service” program.

    You , on the other hand , have to pay for your grunt labor, mimum wage, if your lucky, and all employment taxes and insurance. Do you groove on the fact that I can charge my customers less to use my service than you can , at taxpayer expense, to help underwrite my profits? Does it make you feel good that I am helping to “rehab” non violent offenders while I erode your customer base in Boise? You really think “Community Service” means providing free grunt labor available to me but not to you by the county is a good thing? Nemo, government subsidy of labor, especially penal or slave labor, to private sector businesses of government choice, is called national socialisim. Oh I forgot, this is Idaho.

  14. shealyisnottheantichrist
    Sep 29, 2007, 10:41 pm

    After my arrest, I was found guilty and sentenced to community service. The only option offered was working at the VA nursing home. They were very nice, and offered a plethora of different jobs.

    It certainly sounds illegal to expect offenders to work for a private business unless the state receives some sort of renumeration for the work.

    If they were convicted of damaging the business owner’s property or something involving a financial loss, I can see how this would be acceptable, to make up for it.

    I think we need to hear from the judge’s side of the story before making a definitive call on the rightness or wrongness of the practice.

    EDITOR NOTE–The judge may not even know where the probationers go–but he probably SHOULD know.

  15. shealyisnottheantichrist
    Sep 29, 2007, 10:44 pm

    Also, the judge did not decide where we did our service, a private agency employed by the court made the call. They are on State Street. You might check with them first.

    EDITOR NOTE–Juvenile is a different agency, but it is important to keep the adult probation from being a “privte profit center” as well.

  16. Adult misdemeanor probation in and of itself IS a private profit center. Guardian, don’t you recall the big fuss several years ago (mid-90’s?) about how Ada County had awarded the contract to run a privatized adult misdemeanor probation program to a former bail bondsperson, Nancy Cladis, who had been the girlfriend of Trial Court Administrator John Traylor, without a proper bidding process?

    The County took a step backward, put out a Request For Proposals, and Cladis ended up with the contract anyway. To the best of my knowledge, she STILL has it. Traylor retired, moved to Arizona, then came back to run the County’s Welfare Department. He has since taken over the County’s Development Services Department. I remember the man as a capable administrator, although the jury is still out about how good a job he does running Development Services.

    Adult misdemeanor probation is something the County ought to do itself. If the private sector can do it and make money, then the County (and taxpayers) ought to benefit from the revenue source, or the cost to probationers (who have to pay for the “privilege”) ought to be reduced.

  17. grumpy ole guy
    Sep 30, 2007, 3:02 am

    County jail is used for the “less serious crimes”; it is not prison, thus the option of work-release / community service. The rationale is that the “criminal” has offended the Community and therefore can make restitution TO THE COMMUNITY. Such service requires supervision and is often limited by that lack. For profit operations must never be confused with community activities.

    Something is seriously awry if this accusarion is correct. How do we demand an investigation?

  18. Grumpy Ole Guy wrote, “County jail is used for the ‘less serious crimes’; it is not prison, thus the option of work-release / community service.” Just to clarify, that statement is true, but only to a point.

    BEFORE those really bad guys (and gals) are sentenced to one of the facilities south of town, they may be held in the Ada County Jail. Some of the folks in there, being held near the Boise Towne Square Mall, have committed serious crimes. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated Sheriff’s employees, jailbreaks have been limited.

    The Sheriff’s Inmate Labor Detail (SILD) and work-release program options are NOT available to everyone assigned to the Ada County Jail. Those are sentencing options available to the judges, but are not always appropriate, depending on the severity of the crime(s) committed.

  19. Seems that the County and city both would rather out-source things like this, rather than deal with it and save taxpayer funds!
    With the Boise mayor wanting to spend taxpayer monies to clean up graffiti , why wouldn’t this be a great community service job for juvenile offenders ? I’m also sure that many other community jobs like working in parks,etc. exist.
    I think that the idea of community service is supposed to be a learning process.

  20. Brat1 is right. Perhaps we need to look at the meaning of “community service”. What does the Ada County juvenile parole office think community service means?

    Does community service mean I can get the kids over to rake my leaves, mow my grass and weed my garden? When I get done with those kids they will know something about being a home owner. They will not want to smoke pot ever again when I’m done with them. I’ll save money too because I won’t have to pay a yard service company or the smart mouth kid next door (won’t work for less than $10.00/hr) that never finishes the job, or take the risk of hiring some illegal Mexicans hangin out by Lowes looking for quick work.

    And if the community service kids don’t show up for work I’ll call the cops and bust em again. Hey I’m part of the community and I want my free service. Where do I sign up?

  21. Brat, and others….

    I thought outsourcing goverment service was the answer to goverment waste? At least thats what I heard on here in relation to other services arguably much more vital, such as public safety.

    Anyway, Dog…You make some good points. There are very few things I am absolutely convinced about, but I do have strong opinions from time to time. I do think your discussion has some merit, except:

    1- I doubt teenagers sweeping the floor are going to effect the bottom line…significantly enough to put one buiseness under or one over the top. Maybe its my limited experiance, but we arnt talking a large pool, or tons of labor they are doing. After all, if the labor they were doing was that important to your buisnesses bottom line, would you trust it to a bunch of comm. service kids?

    2- If we both had stores, and you had the kids…and I didnt, then it would be beholden to me to ask for some myself. If I met the requirements (what ever they may be) and still wasnt offered my own lil breakfast club to do menial labor, then there would be an unfair advantage. If I just sat around and watched your kids do work and didnt secure kids of my own, then I must accept the result , intangable as it may or may not be.

    I guess my point is I dont see the big deal, as long as the areas are safe, and agencies involved have them WORK, and if its free to one its free to all (while supplies last).

    ANYTHING is better than them sitting around watching TV, and if we dont have to pay a county employee to watch them…even better.

    Just my street level thoughts.

  22. Nemo, what part of not available to everybody don’t you understand?

  23. I think it is a good idea. As long as each business has an opportunity to particpate and no one business gets exclusive free labor. Let’s face it having cons pick up trash on the highway and stamp license plates fails to improve the persons condition and they usually end up back in jail. Put them in a real work enviornment where customer service expereince is gained, and some skills that can actually lead to a paycheck. I bet many of these individuals end up working in retail afterward. Kudos to these businesses for giving these kids a chance, most businesses say no as they are worried about brining in a criminal element and assuming they will have thefts or vandalism.

  24. Joe in Boise
    Oct 2, 2007, 9:20 am

    I understand the concern of the Guardian and others however, coming from a background in juvenile corrections, I feel that we cannot dismiss the potential value of the real world vocational experience that these kids get at no cost to the taxpayers.

    Learning to work and the responsibility that comes with answereing to an employer, often a new kind of authority figure for a kid and one that he will most likely be dealing with for the rest of his life, can be an invaluable experience for any young person. Lets look at the big picture here.

    The REAL problem with juvenile corrections in this state is the “Good Ol’ Boy” system of management and promotions and the cronyism. The Counties (Both Ada and Canyon), in my opinion, do a much better job at serving our misguided youth than the State does.

  25. See SILD programs. It is all slave labor, and somewhere, buried in ISC (section 16 I think) is a statute that allows slavery.
    Idaho is a police state, at every turn, corner, and opportunity.
    The SILD program ‘allows’ the inmate to venture outside of the ‘box’ while charging the inmate $20/day.
    Meanwhile, parole ‘officers’ who are under contract (Yes. Ada County outsourced parole officers) receive $50/month for pushing a button on their computer screen.
    Last time I checked, this was called robbery … by county ‘officials.’

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