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Leon County Employees Replaced by Slaves

Leon County, Florida, sheriff Larry Campbell beamed with pride as he watched one of his campaign promises come true. Fourteen zebra-striped prisoners filed onto a bus waiting to take them to their first day of forced labor clearing brush along county roads. Campbell was especially proud of the lurid black and white striped convict uniforms, saying that he hopes the outfits will be a deterrent for people who might commit the kind of crimes that land them in jail.

"I don't want people working for an honest living being confused with prisoners," he said. "I don't want these [prisoners] to like these suits. I think it's going to be in the best interests of the citizens overall."

The prisoners will take the place of 10 county public works jobs slots resulting from a hiring freeze lasting more than a year. In order to avoid the appearance of "people working for an honest living" being replaced by unpaid slaves in striped suits, the public works jobs were eliminated through "normal attrition," explained Jesse Sasser, director of operations for the Leon County Department of Public Works.

The county will save about $224,000 a year. For the same duties, a new county employee would earn about $16,000 a year, Sasser said. By contrast, explained Campbell, the prisoners earn good time and free meals. Jail detainees who do not "volunteer" for the forced labor are charged a daily fee for their meals.

"These gentlemen are eager to go to work," said Lt. Tommy Mills, who oversees the labor camp. Mills said that he had to turn down several jail prisoners who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to earn free meals.

County commissioner Jane Sauls said it has been nearly 30 years since the county last operated a similar labor camp. She said the rising costs of running the jail dictate that the county take steps to lessen the financial burden of locking up drunk drivers, bad check writers, forgers and petty thieves.

"Any cost savings to Leon County is what we're looking for," Sauls told reporters outside the gates of the labor camp. "I think the citizens would like to see the inmates out working.'

But there are at least ten county citizens who might otherwise have landed a paying county job who might express a different opinion. Who knows? Maybe some of those would-be county employees will write a few bad checks to put food on the table for their families. Then they could land a job with the county. Free meals. And a snappy zebra suit to boot.

Tallahassee Democrat

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