From the February 2009 Idaho Observer:

DC District Court says 13th Amend. allows prison slave labor

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently ruled in Shipley v. Woolrich, et al, that "it is well-settled that the 13th Amendment’s protection against involuntary servitude does not extend to prisoners who are required to perform work for little or no pay."

Benjamin Shipley, Jr., a prisoner at FCI Terre Haute, filed a pro se complaint in the DC court and was allowed by the court to proceed in forma pauperis. Shipley alleged that he was deprived of equal protection under the 13th Amendment by being forced to work as a prison laborer making U.S. military clothing for private contractor Woolrich which conspired with Federal Bureau of Prisons personnel to exploit his labor for private profit.

"The complaint, and each of its claims, is based upon the premise that plaintiff has an enforceable right that flows from either the constitution or other federal law that entitles him to minimum or market wages for work performed while incarcerated as a federal prisoner. This premise is false," the court reasoned.

The court cited the 13th Amendment and stated that it "clearly" allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime after conviction, to wit:"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Per Vanskike v. Peters, the court ruled that prison work assignments are part of the inmates’ sentences of incarceration and, per Sanders v. Hayden, "Prison and jail inmates are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act."

"Because the complaint fails to state a claim under the Constitution or the laws of the United States upon which relief may be granted to the plaintiff," the complaint was dismissed.

The court appears to be making no distinction between not-for-private-profit prison labor allowed under the 13th Amendment and that which is privately profitable under contractual arrangements between private industry and government..