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That's the sound of the men working on the asbestos gang?

Once upon a time, many prisoners in state jails and penitentiaries were seen as having few rights. In some states, inmate labor was used to run various industrial and agricultural concerns. Chain gangs were employed to punish inmates and provide some services, such as road maintenance or field work for the state. Sometimes brutal methods were used to handle inmates, but few were concerned, as they were just prisoners.

One would think such Victorian views were a thing of, well, the Victorian era. Some hints of such behavior came to light this week, when the Washington Department of Corrections finally closed a program what used inmate labor from the state institutions for asbestos abetment work. 

In what the Department of Corrections claims is an "unrelated matter," they settled an investigation into their cleanup methods during the asbestos abatement process employed at the Corrections Center for Women. They paid a $70,000 fine, but argue that no one was exposed to asbestos, even though the cleanup regulation was violated.

The inmates had been removing a large quantity of asbestos-containing vinyl floor tiles and adhesive, materials both which were frequently manufactured with asbestos.

According to the story, the Department of Corrections had been planning to end the program, before the fines and settlement occurred. It was closed on December 31 of last year.

The Department of Labor and Industry, which levied the fines, reported that almost a third of those who died of job-related injuries in 2013, died because of asbestos exposure.

While Corrections claimed the inmates had received training for asbestos abatement practices, the investigation found "shoddy work practices." The violations were willful. Anytime asbestos abatement is performed, it should be handled by expert, licensed contractors.

And if they want to provide employment for inmates, they must be supervised by a contractor who understands proper asbestos abatement procedures. 

Source: The News Tribune, "State ends asbestos cleanup by prisoners," Jordan Schrader, April 21, 2014 

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