UF to end use of prisoners for slave labor

by Alachua County Labor Coalition

The University of Florida announced that “there are agriculture operations where UF has relied on prison and jail inmates to provide farm labor. The symbolism of inmate labor is incompatible with our university and its principles and therefore this practice will end.”

The University had eight contracts with the Florida Department of Corrections as of 2019. These contracts forced incarcerated individuals, many of whom are people of color, to work with zero compensation under the threat of punishment.

“The University of Florida profited off slavery by exploiting a loophole of the 13th amendment which freed slaves,” said Kevin Scott, an organizer with Florida Prisoner Solidarity. “Slavery can, and still is, used as punishment for crimes” he said.

The University of Florida has become the first university to cut its agricultural contracts with the Florida Department of Corrections. They follow Alachua County and the City of Gainesville who ended their contracts in 2018. 

A concentrated campaign throughout 2019 targeted the University of Florida president, Board of Trustees, and IFAS. The campaign built off of the 2018 Prison Strike, where Gainesville residents occupied space outside of the Gainesville Work Camp, to prevent the enaction of slavery in our city. 

“We can’t disconnect UFPD’s presence in Gainesville from Florida’s prison system that exploits people for their labor. UF’s Police Department has jurisdiction to arrest folks on and off-campus, meaning that they have criminalized Gainesville’s black communities away from campus, and into work camps all across the state” said Juan Zapata, UF graduate and former organizer with Divest UF. “UF can repair the damage they’ve done by abolishing their police force, immediately terminating their labor contracts, and divesting their $2.04B endowment from all forms of human detainment,” he said.

“I am thrilled that my alma mater has found the courage to end the use of forced prison labor,” said Jeremiah Tattersall, chair of the ACLC. “I hope that UF continues by ending their funding of prisons in their $2.04 billion endowments” he continued. 

This campaign to end the use of prison slave labor at UF was made possible by Florida Prisoner Solidarity, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Divest UF, Alachua County Labor Coalition, Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, and many others.

“UF didn’t end their use of prison slave labor out of the kindness of their hearts. They didn’t wake up today and realize how amoral it was,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. “This came about because we organized, we fought, and we won.”

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