Outside advocacy groups joined with Florida’s prisoners in a protest called Operation PUSH to bring attention to the state’s long history of overcharging for basic canteen items, while simultaneously underpaying its inmate workforce, reported a PolitiFact Florida article.
“One case of soup on the street costs $4,” PUSH said in an anonymous website statement. “It costs us $17 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun.”
In January, protesters rallied and picketed outside the Department of Corrections in Tallahassee to demand answers. They want Florida’s DOC to justify its high canteen prices for things like ramen noodles and tampons, as well as its excessive phone rates, which can reach over $8 for one 15-minute call.
“That’s not surprising at all to hear, and that’s something I’ve heard throughout my career,” noted ACLU’s Jackie Azis. “And I don’t think it’s exclusive to Florida.”
“The only item that I find overpriced is probably the most popular item that inmates purchase huge quantities of, and that’s the oriental-style dry soup noodles,” said Ron Andrew, a former Florida state prison warden and consultant.
Florida prisons routinely sell the soups for 70 cents each, without the option to purchase them at any bulk rate discount.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
PUSH organizers advocate nonviolent protest to end “prison slavery” and unscrupulous price-gouging at prison canteens. The movement further urges for legislative reforms that would offer parole incentives for lifers, restore voting rights to ex-felons, and abolish the state’s death penalty, reported an article in The Nation.
“We want to create an environment where someone can do their time, be rehabilitated, and enter into society with some type of hope,” said one inmate activist under anonymity to avoid recrimination from DOC staff.
“One case of soup on the street costs $4, … It costs us $17 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun.”
Many prisoners’ rights organizations support the Operation PUSH movement, including the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, Supporting Prisoners and Real Change (SPARC), the national Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), and local Florida chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
“The way to strike back is not with violence,” wrote one PUSH inmate in an IWOC pamphlet distributed to approximately 1000 Florida prisoners. “If we show them violence they will have a legitimate excuse to use brute force against us.”
Karen Smith, secretary of the Gainesville branch of IWOC, stated that some of the incarcerated contributing writers for the IWOC pamphlet faced repercussions and were subsequently placed in solitary confinement by DOC officials.
Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) is a nonprofit corporation that operates within Florida’s prison system and manages the manufacture of license plates, office furniture, uniforms and other such products. Inmate workers employed in state prison by PRIDE can earn a maximum of 55 cents per hour.
In 2009, a Prison Legal News article detailed the contractual scheme agreed to between Florida’s DOC and the Keefe Commissary Network – a private for-profit company that sells its goods to prisoners nationwide.
Keefe committed itself contractually to pay FDOC almost $1 a day for each and all of its roughly 100,000 inmates. That agreement equated to payments of almost $3 million each month.
“Regardless of the amount of gross sales, the Contractor will compensate the Department in an amount of $0.96 per day per inmate based on the Department’s Average Daily Population,” the contract stated. Also included in the 2009 contract was a scheduled 10 percent price increase annually for all commissary sales items.
A 1996 Florida law stated the prison commissary items “shall be priced comparatively with like items for retail sale at fair market prices.” That same legislation was also responsible for redirecting canteen profits from the Inmate Welfare Fund to the state’s General Revenue Fund.
Keefe no longer holds the Florida commissary contract. Trinity Services Group, Inc. currently operates statewide canteen services.