by Fight Toxic Prisons
On June 17, a demonstration at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) offices at 5007 NE 39th Ave, disrupted the activity of Department of Corrections (FDOC), which has a $19.6 million contract to lease out prisoners as unpaid slaves to do road work for the State.
The protest came at the close of a weekend-long gathering of activists from across the country, the Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) Convergence. The group also coordinated the Father’s Day Bailout / Juneteenth rally later that day at the Alachua County Jail. The bailout raised almost $14,000 and has successfully bailed out three pre-trial prisoners including Gerald Bell, held on a $7,000 bond for drug-related charges.
“The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office continues holding people on high bail amounts that don’t allow people to prepare their legal defense. This results in an increased likelihood of state prison sentences,” said Karen Smith, an organizer with the Incarcerated Workers Organizers Committee (IWOC).
“It’s equivalent to selling people back into slavery,” Smith said, when explaining how the issues of prison labor contracts and money bail are connected.
The slavery that IWOC and FTP speak of was the topic of a major in-depth investigation last month by the Jacksonville Times-Union.
The groups are targeting FDOT, as it is among the largest entities in the state to continue using slave labor, alongside the University of Florida.
Ironically, both the City of Gainesville and the Alachua County Commission voted to stop exploiting prisoners’ labor earlier this year. As a result, they are creating living wage jobs in the place of these contracts. FDOT and UF must do the same.
Alachua County is surrounded by prisons, with over a dozen local, state and federal facilities in a 60 mile radius where tens-of-thousands of people are held in cages, underfed, abused and forced to work with little or no pay. Most of these prisoners’ sentences started at a county jail, where they faced state coercion to accept a bad plea deal or go into trial unprepared.
Alachua County jail holds hundreds of pre-trial detainees on any given day, who would walk free if they were wealthy enough, and stand a chance at defending themselves in court.
While those with money are released from confinement, those in poverty face harsh choices: languish at risk or accept a guilty plea to get out of jail—often to crimes they didn’t commit.
As a result of not having enough money to get bailed out, they succumbed to a deeply flawed justice system where tough-on-crime rhetoric created policies that are not based in actual goals of public safety, rehabilitation or community health.
More information about the demonstration can be found at tinyurl.com/Iguana1011. More information about the 2019 Fight Toxic Prison Convergence can be found at tinyurl.com/Iguana1001.