Pine Bluff, Arkansas has a couple of big problems: a growing prison population and a crumbling downtown. Multiple Pine Bluff downtown buildings have collapsed in recent years, damaging nearby structures and blocking roads. The Mulligan Road Project proposed to simultaneously solve both problems. Qualifying inmates could reduce their sentences and gain work experience by demolishing dilapidated buildings smattering the town, according to a New York Times article. But there was a catch.
All of the buildings slated for demolition were presumed to have asbestos. Demolished buildings released plumes of asbestos dust, coating the worksite and clogging-up the machinery. The only barrier between the inmates and the deadly asbestos was a disposable dust mask. When the men asked for respirators, they were told they could stay and work with what little protective gear they had or go back to prison. If someone chose to return to prison, it could be considered a violation and potentially extend the person’s sentence, according to the article.
Federal agencies became aware of the dangerous working environments and conducted inspections of the buildings slated for demolition. Rather than resolve the issues noted by the E.P.A., Pine Bluff city officials shut down the project. Though the Mulligan Road Project is no longer around, the inmates are left wondering if their exposure to asbestos will come back to haunt them. Asbestos exposure has been linked to deadly lung cancer for decades.
Although forced labor has long been considered exploitative, “programs that put inmates to work on civically needed but potentially risky jobs are not rare,” according to the report. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which formally banned slavery, includes an exception for incarcerated individuals.
The attorneys at Keith, Miller, Butler, Schneider & Pawlik, PLLC, are experienced at helping inmates protect their civil rights, including enforcing habitable living and working conditions. If you or a loved one has been incarcerated and exposed to dangerous conditions, contact us today for a free case evaluation: 479-621-0006.