The use of unpaid labor from prisoners may be a thing of the past by the spring of 2019.
The city of Gainesville budgeted about $50,000 to launch a pilot program to phase out the unpaid labor provided by prison workers Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said.
Every year, the city contracts about 30,720 hours of labor for about $230,000, said City Commissioner David Arreola.
Nonprofits like the Brave Overt Leaders of Distinction will assist in trimming trees, clearing bushes and conducting regular park maintenance for the city’s living wage of $8.25 an hour, Poe said.
The pilot program will also help a portion of the city’s population that struggles to find work, Poe said.
“I think it’s a really important transition we can make,” Poe said. “It’s been used and abused in the past, so I think it’s a really positive step for the city of Gainesville to be transitioning away from the practice.”
The program will run until spring 2019 when contracts with the Florida Department of Corrections and the city’s parks, recreation and public works department expires, Poe said. By then, the need for unpaid incarcerated labor will phase out.
Gainesville needs to cut ties with the DOC immediately, said Karen Smith, an organizer for Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and secretary of the Gainesville branch of Local Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
“Prisoners that they claim are too dangerous to live in the free world — they’re putting them in communities and parks,” Smith said.
After the program is launched and the contracts have ended, Smith hopes the city will start a trend of putting an end to unpaid prison labor.
“What we see today is an ancestor of a kind of slavery,” Smith said. “It just looks different because it’s a state operation.”