New England has seen snowfall of rare proportions over the last few weeks, receiving seven feet of snow, especially in Boston. In response, the city of Boston has begun using prison labor to help clear the snow, reported ThinkProgress.
The amount of snow in the past few weeks has shut down city roads, train lines, and has basically the entire city of Boston. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) has partnered with the state prison labor system, combining union and prison workers to increase efforts in restoring the city back to working order.
“The amount of snow that we got is record-setting and we’ve pulled out every resource from every possible way to clean this situation up,” said Inspectional Services Department commissioner William Christopher.
Using prison labor in Boston to clear snow is nothing new. Christopher said two prisoner groups were dispatched to assist in snow-clearing efforts early this month. In 2011, a minimum-security prison in Worcester, MA started a community service program that allowed some inmates to go outside of the prison walls and work in society for a few hours a day.
This program in Boston seems to be a win-win for everyone involved. The city of Boston is getting back in order, state prisoners, who are usually selected on a good-behavior basis, get to go out and contribute to society, and the MBTA is offering about $30/hour to union workers who help shovel train tracks.
Despite this constructive use of prison labor, ThinkProgress noted that there is an ugly side to using prison labor. TP reported that “in many states, prison labor is used to support profit-making enterprises rather than in the emergency public-public service context” like in Boston.
At least one place (Boston) can implement prison labor in a constructive and non-greedy fashion.