The use of prisoners for cheap labor to perform tasks such as landscaping, that many consider to have minimal, if any rehabilitative value, is being curtailed in one city, according to Andrew Caplan of the Gainesville Sun and gainesville.com.
City commissioners of Gainesville, Florida, met in November to discuss a new pilot program created by City Manager Anthony Lyons that could eventually replace the need for prison labor as soon as Oct. 1, the start of their next fiscal year, according to gainesville.com.
The proposed pilot program met opposition.
“This is slavery. This is human slavery,” said Commissioner Gigi Simmons.
“When I look out at the prisoners in the hot sun, they look like me,” she said.
“The majority of them look like me. They look like my nephew. They look like my uncles. They look like my son. Enough is enough.”
Across the country, there have been protests and debates over how inmates are treated while incarcerated.
There are concerns of price gouging for commissary items sold to prisoners while companies and governments exploit inmates, using them for cheap labor, which some say is “immoral,” according to gainsville.com.
Gainesville is attempting to address this problem with the proposed pilot program that would have up to six young adults doing landscaping and instructional coursework at Santa Fe College and help give the young adults business experience, build resumes, and pay them for their labor.
None of these benefits were or will be given to the inmates who continue to do the work until Oct. 1, when the pilot program is schedule to begin, according to gainesville.com.
Dozens of activists packed the meeting room to overflow, forcing dozens more to crowd into a hallway to hear the discussion and show their opposition.
The activists found an ally in Commissioner Simmons, who continued her staunch opposition to the pilot program calling it, “an embarrassment.” She said that the optics of using mostly Black participants to replace prison workers to do landscaping was “unacceptable,” according to gainesville.com.
Gainesville has at least two contracts with the Florida Department of Corrections. Between its parks and public works departments, the two collectively pay about $110,000 annually for the service(s), with none of the money going to inmate laborers.