Originally created 09/22/04

Equal-opportunity slavery



Slavery is alive and well in Georgia.

Only now, it's an equal-opportunity exploiter.

Today, the plantation owners are sheriffs: At least half a dozen Georgia sheriffs in recent years have been accused of using jail inmates for free or cheap labor - for themselves, for deputies, for political campaigns or supporters and for churches and businesses.

It is all plainly illegal, folks.

There's a good reason for that, too - because it is tantamount to slavery: taking a captive audience and extracting labor under coerced circumstances.

Jenkins County Sheriff Bobby Womack was accused by numerous inmates and former deputies of having inmates work at his home, his lumber business and his rental properties. He resigned for health reasons after an Augusta Chronicle investigation in May inspired a state probe.

On Sunday, The Chronicle's Johnny Edwards exposed another sheriff for using inmate labor: Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile.

"He can make it rough for you when you're in jail," said one of 32 inmates who reported inmate labor abuses to the Chronicle. "I didn't have no choice. You either do it, or he mistreats you."

Through the toil of inmates in his custody and care, Sheriff Kile got a new shower in his master bedroom; tile; mowing; new doors and windows; a cement patio and walkway; and freshly painted re-election yard signs. The sheriff also encouraged others in the department to "take an inmate with you" when they needed work done around the house.

The sheriff even bragged in a campaign appearance July 6 about providing inmate labor to area churches - again, a quite illegal practice.

Oddly, because two inmates were prosecuted for escaping from a work detail at a church, the district attorney's office knew full well of the sheriff's practice and did nothing.

One inmate took full advantage of the freedom offered by Sheriff Kile - by using a machete to hack away at a former accuser outside his home.

At least now the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will be taking a look.

Sad-sack sheriffs such as Kile give the South a bad name, resuscitating every negative stereotype of Southern justice. It's a disgrace.

Georgia will never fully leave the legacy of slavery behind as long as people like Mike Kile are sworn in as sheriffs - and then exploit the county's inmates for slave labor.

We don't elect sheriffs so they can feather their nests with slave labor, and fluff up their political campaigns with fresh yard signs anytime a handyman happens to run afoul of the law. Fact is, our state lawmakers have passed legislation outlawing such actions.

Screven County is better than this, and so is Georgia - better than having forced labor camps masquerading as jails.

It's a disgrace.