Ending Prison Labor in the University of Maryland System

Sofia Dirie, NAACP President, on the far right. Alongside members of NAACP

Sofia Dirie, NAACP President, on the far right. Alongside members of NAACP

As student leaders gather on campus from the NAACP Chapter on the campus of Coppin State University, NAACP President, Sofia Dirie, shared her concerns on how the University of Maryland system uses Maryland correctional enterprises’ prison labor. 

Why is this a concern for students? 

Sofia Dirie, Senior Political Sciences Major shared, “As students of an HBCU we find it unfortunate seeing the disproportionate racial population. In Maryland only 30% of the population is African American however 71% of the Maryland prison population is African American”. 

Dirie explained that alongside her chapter she has gone through Coppin State, Student Government Association, Chain of Command to seek assistance on creating a resolution and advocate on why they believe University of Maryland System should move away from using the prison population. 

Dirie had some discussion and verbal agreement with SGA in the Fall of 2022, and unfortunately their deadline was not met. It then led her to email administrative staff about their resolution in hopes of having it established by March 1st. The March 1st deadline was not met as well. 

The resolution included “to have a task force established to have an idea on what amount Coppin is contributing to the prison labor”. 

Dirie was asked to share her thoughts on ending prison labor, and she said, “Although I understand prison labor is something some prisoners depend on to earn income, however, I believe they should at least be paid minimum wage”. 

There was a similar bill presented to the Maryland General Assembly by Senator Benson SB194 during the 2021 session to pay prisoners minimum wage. 

However, Dirie shared her biggest concern is “the racial disparity”, and explains the African American community is being exploited in the prison population. 

NAACP vision includes , “We envision an inclusive community rooted in liberation where all persons can exercise their civil and human rights without discrimination.”

As a University Chapter, students are fighting for a stronger community of equality and change. Ending prison labor within HBCUs in the University of Maryland System will create a pathway of growth and understanding that we are fighting for their rights, and exercise the power to end racial disparities. 

Moving forward, Dirie shared her thoughts on how Coppin SGA can improve their process for resolutions and more, to help lift up the community and create change. 

Coppin State is not the only University using their voices to have University of Maryland System divest from Prison Labor. 

The Diamondback, University of Maryland, College Park shared “ The University System of Maryland needs to either divest away from prison labor or lead initiatives to recognize the labor that people who are incarcerated put in as legitimate and pay them the wages they deserve. In 2020, Maryland Correctional Enterprises — the prison labor profiteers that sell to our campus — released its annual report and detailed revenue stream as well as some of the wages for its workers. MCE touted its yearly sale number of over $52 million, the ninth highest revenue stream for state correctional industry sales in the nation. The system alone accounted for almost 13 percent of total sales at over $7 million. These purchases most often came in the form of university furniture — this university alone totaled $3.5 million in 2014 for furniture purchases — in addition to automobile tags and the printing and mailing of state publications.”

“We need more support from our administration, to help us lift up the university and allow us to create these resolutions and obtain a reasonable turnaround time to establish change”, Dirie shared. 

According to the SGA bylaws the senate can pass resolutions with a simple majority vote cited in Article VI, Section II, Clause D “The Student Senate shall be the law making body of the SGA and the voice of the students at the University. The role and duties of Senators shall be as follows:
1. Enact all legislation necessary and proper to promote the general welfare and progress of the student body with a majority vote.”