A Jamaican detainee has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department in Boston, saying it pays hundreds of persons in custody only US$1.00 a day to mop floors, scrub toilets, and perform other janitorial duties at the jail.
His lawyers are seeking $4 million in unpaid wages over the last six years.
Lawyers for Anthony Whyte, a 40-year-old detainee fighting deportation to Jamaica, said he should be paid at least the state minimum wage, of $9.00 an hour, because he is in custody for alleged civil violations and not crimes. He voluntarily works in the jail’s immigration unit.
Andrew Schmidt, lead counsel in the case, expressed concern that states and private companies have started using detainees for cheap labour. Steven Tompkins, a spokesman for the Suffolk County Sheriff, said inmates and immigrant detainees are paid based on where they are assigned to work. They can earn one dollar a day working indoors doing laundry or other tasks, he explained.
Convicts doing work outside of jail, such as snow-shoveling, can earn three dollars a day and a reduction of their sentence.
The civil lawsuit, filed on February 18 in Suffolk Superior Court, accuses the Sheriff’s Department of wrongly classifying workers as non-employees, failing to pay overtime, and other violations of state law.