Court: Texas Inmates Aren't Entitled to Minimum Wage for Prison Jobs

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Texas inmates working prison jobs aren't entitled to the federal minimum wage, an appeals court ruled in a case brought by a sex offender who works at a state prison laundry.

Douglas R. Loving contended his job as a drying machine operator qualified him for protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act — meaning he should get the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour — because the act didn't exempt prisoners.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It upheld a lower court decision's to throw out Loving's lawsuit as frivolous, writing that prisoners are not employees and not entitled to minimum wages.

"Compelling an inmate to work without pay does not violate the Constitution," a three-judge panel of the court said. "The failure of a state specifically to sentence an inmate to hard labor does not change this rule."

In Texas, inmates capable of working are expected to hold jobs but aren't paid, Texas prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Monday.

Loving, 54, began serving a 20-year sentence in 1992 for aggravated sexual assault of a child. He argued in his lawsuit that the state should credit his inmate trust fund with wages for his work.

The court panel noted in its decision Friday that it had ruled in similar cases where inmates working outside jails for private firms technically were employees but inmates working inside prisons for private firms were not.

It also cited a recent decision from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled people "are not imprisoned for the purpose of enabling them to earn a living."