Ninth Circuit rules prisoners have no right to fair pay

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that federal prisoners are not entitled to a base level of compensation for work performed while incarcerated. Serra v. Lappin grew out of a challenge brought by attorney J. Tony Serra, who was imprisoned for failure to pay federal taxes. Serra and two fellow plaintiffs claimed that their rights were violated according to the Fifth Amendment [text] to the US Constitution and various sources of international law. Judge Richard R. Clifton delivered the opinion of the Court:


We conclude that prisoners have no enforceable right to be paid for their work under the Constitution or international law, and we affirm the district court's dismissal of the action...The Constitution does not provide prisoners any substantive entitlement to compensation for their labor...Although the Constitution includes, in the Thirteenth Amendment,a general prohibition against involuntary servitude, it expressly excepts from that general prohibition forced labor "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."

In addition to rejecting a cause of action on the basis of the Constitution, the Court also ruled that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], a UN document entitled Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners [text] and the law of nations "do not confer judicially enforceable rights."

In February, the Ninth Circuit held that inmate strip searches are constitutional [JURIST report]. That court also ruled [JURIST report; opinion, PDF] in January that a Washington state law that prohibited felons from voting violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act [text].

 

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