The Seattle Human Rights Commission is questioning the city’s use of state corrections crews to clean up unauthorized homeless encampments, raising concerns about prison labor, reports the Seattle Times. Seattle recently stopped using the crews for encampment cleanups. Officials sought to draw a distinction between prison labor and crews of people working in lieu of jail time or for community service. The city has used state inmate crews for 23 years. The crews clean up illegal-dumping sites under an agreement with Seattle Public Utilities.
The Human Rights Commission last week called on the city to stop using the state inmate crews and to disclose information about them. The commission blasted Seattle’s encampment sweeps, which involve cleanups and forcing people to move. The sweeps have come under fire for for being disorganized and for disrupting lives. The commission said prison labor “is widely considered a vestige of slavery.” It said that, “Using one disenfranchised community to displace and disrupt the lives of another … raises serious moral issues.” In September, a federal judge in Tacoma ruled that corrections crews had violated the constitutional rights of homeless campers by throwing out important belongings such as tents and medication during sweeps.