An action report from Fight Toxic Prisons about a recent action which disrupted the ability of the Florida Department of Corrections from being able to send out prisoners to work as unpaid prison slaves throughout the area.
Gainesville, FL — A demonstration began early this morning at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) offices, located at 5007 NE 39th Ave, disrupting the activity of Department of Corrections (FDOC) which has a contract to lease out prisoners as unpaid slaves to do road work for the State.
This protest comes at the close of a weekend-long gathering of activists from across the country, known as the Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) Convergence. The group is also affiliated with the Father’s Day Bailout rally planned for 10 a.m. today at the Alachua County Jail on 39th Street, near the FDOT office. The bailout has announced its plan to post bond today for a pre-trial prisoner currently held on a 7,000 bond for drug charges two months ago which his elderly parents that rely on him cannot afford to pay.
Karen Smith, a prison labor union organizer with the group, says the issues of prison labor contracts and money bail are connected. “The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office continues holding people on high bail amounts that result in state prison sentences.” Smith stated. “This is equivalent to selling people back into slavery.” The slavery that Smith and FTP speak of was the topic of a major in-depth investigation by the Jacksonville Times-Union.
Using the slogan #FreeTheDads, the activists say they will continue the Fathers Day bailout until the Juneteenth holiday on Wednesday, which is a celebration of freedom from chattel slavery. They continue to collect donations which can be made here.
MORE ABOUT PRISON LABOR CONTRACTS
The FTP group is targeting FDOT as it is among the largest entities in the state to continue using slave labor, alongside University of Florida. Last year FDOT paid $19 million dollars to lease prisoners, who didn’t see a penny. The FDOT offices in Gainesville a major regional hubs for the agencies activities.
Attached is a picture taken last week of an FDOC employee driving an FDOT work track at the site of the demonstration today. 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 can and must do the same.
People jailed because of money bail are presumed innocent under the Constitution and are only jailed because they are too poor to pay the money required by the court. One out of every 28 children now has an incarcerated parent, over 90% of which are fathers.
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 were 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.
Incarcerated, even for a day, an individual is at risk of violence and losing employment, custody of children and housing. Most suicides in jail occur within the first week.Crime has been declining for decades, yet the number of children with a father in state or federal prison is now estimated over 1.5 million. Estimates suggest that Black and Hispanic children are up to six times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than their white peers.
Another organizer with the group, Smith stated “Incarceration often spans generations. Fathers in prison are, overwhelmingly, fatherless themselves. Youths in father-absent households have significantly higher odds of incarceration. Its time to organize and break the cycle.”