Florida is one of a handful of states that doesn’t pay prisoners to work, constituting what some consider slave labor. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) continues to use prison labor during the coronavirus pandemic, despite the obvious risk it poses.
The Florida Times-Union reported in May that 3,500 prisoners were being used in work squads that service 67 counties in the state. There were 34 work camps across the state, contracted for everything from grounds maintenance to sewage treatment to moving services. Government agencies paid the DOC $2 per prisoner per hour for their labor. The prisoners work in Florida’s unrelenting heat and do not see any of those wages.
Although representatives from the DOC have stated that labor practices have been limited during the pandemic, they have declined to discuss what preventative measures have been taken.
The prisoners live in close-quarter communities and travel to and from work sites on crowded buses. In late May, the state reported more than 53,000 cases of COVID-19 in early April while the DOC website claims over 1,400 cases among prisoners and 261 among staff.
“I mean, this is not safe for the people in prison — or for the surrounding communities,” stated Alison Wilkey, public policy director at John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Prisoner Reentry Institute.
“Using people in prison for low-paid labor is a horrific practice in normal circumstances — it really is akin to slave labor. But, there’s a very particular risk in this situation where there’s a highly infectious virus circulating.”
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