Reference Number: 
CTAS-654

Any sheriff, jailer or other person responsible for the custody of an inmate housed in a local facility who violates the provisions of T.C.A. § 41-2-148 regarding inmate labor for private purposes commits a misdemeanor and shall be punished upon a first conviction by a fine equal to the value of the services received from the inmate or inmates and imprisonment for not less than 30 days nor more than 11 months and 29 days.  Upon a second or subsequent conviction for a violation of T.C.A. § 41-2-148, the sheriff, jailer or other person is guilty of a felony and is subject to a fine of not less than the value of the services received from the inmate or inmates nor more than $5,000 and imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.  If the person violating T.C.A. § 41-2-148 for the second or subsequent time is a public official, in addition to the punishment set out above such person shall immediately forfeit his office and shall be forever barred from holding public office in this state.  T.C.A. § 41-2-148(d)(1).

Any private citizen, corporation, partnership or other business knowingly and willfully using inmate labor in violation of T.C.A. § 41-2-148(b) commits a Class A misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of $1,000 and by imprisonment for not more than 11 months and 29 days.  Each day inmate labor is used in violation of T.C.A. § 41-2-148(b) constitutes a separate offense. T.C.A. § 41-2-148(d)(2).

In the case of In re Williams, 987 S.W.2d 837 (Tenn. 1998), the Tennessee Supreme Court heard the appeal of Judge Billy Wayne Williams from the Court of the Judiciary's judgment recommending that he be removed from the office of general sessions court judge of Lauderdale County.  Judge Williams had, among other things, used an inmate from the county jail to help build a house for his son.  “Judge Williams asserted that he was unaware that the practice of using prison labor for personal work was illegal.  He believed that he had committed no impropriety because other county officials had also used prison labor as an ‘informal work release program.’  Although several other witnesses testified that private individuals in Lauderdale County had a long standing practice of using inmate labor for personal work, it was undisputed that Lauderdale County did not have a formal, approved work release program.”  Id. at 838-839.

Noting that the use of an inmate for a private purpose is a criminal offense, the court found that neither assertion constituted a defense to the disciplinary charges and held that the judge's use of an inmate from the county jail to help build a house for his son violated several canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Id. at 841-842.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of the Judiciary's recommendation that Judge Williams be removed from office. Id. at 844.  See also Jordan v. State ex rel. Williams, 397 S.W.2d 383 (Tenn. 1965) (approving the ouster from office of a county commissioner for utilizing for his own benefit equipment and supplies of the county penal farm and labor of its inmates).