Gonna just copy and paste what I wrote on Neogaf with regards to the most recent episode (summary: I’ve generally enjoyed it so far, and I really like a few of the characters in particular, but there’s this one specific thing from episode 3 that’s really bothering me):
Honestly, I think my only real issue with the show thus far is that one throwaway line early in Context is for Kings about the Federation using prisoners for hard labour. All the dodgy stuff on Discovery? I’m basically fine with it–they’re clearly planning to explore/examine the tension inherent in Starfleet’s dual roles as both a peaceful scientific institution and a military force, and I think that could be super cool depending on how they handle it.
But the Federation using prisoners for hard - indeed, potentially lethal - labour? I just can’t get onboard with that. If it were a key part of the plot - an abuse they planned to explore and expose - then that’d be one thing, but just using it as set dressing is simply horrid. It destroys any conception of the Federation as a utopia.
Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t fit with canon, or whatever–while I feel confident in saying that nothing of the sort would’ve occurred in the TNG/post-TNG Federation, I simply don’t know enough about the TOS era to say either way. My complaint is instead rooted in the basic idea that no civilisation that’s in any sense painted as something that might provide hope for the future of humanity/something to aspire towards, should engage in that kind of behaviour as a matter of course. Again, it’d be different if it were something they planned to specifically explore in the plot, like Lorca and Discovery itself, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.