Will Boose thinks UF’s decision to end its use of unpaid prison labor is long overdue.
Now, he wants to know how UF will keep its promise.
When UF President Kent Fuchs outlined a set of initiatives to address racism and inequity at UF on June 18, it included ending the use of prison and jail inmate labor in UF’s agricultural operations.
Though the university will not have prison labor contracts in the future, its existing prison labor contracts will not end until July 1, 2021, at the latest, according to a university statement issued Thursday.
“As we move forward in implementing these initiatives, we are committed to this challenging, uncomfortable transformational work, and we will update and involve the community accordingly throughout the process,” the statement read.
When asked about the extent of UF’s use of prison labor and why UF decided to end the practice now when it has been protested in the past, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando declined to comment and referred The Alligator to the university’s statement.
The statement came in response to a letter from the Coalition to Abolish Prison Slavery, a group dedicated to ending UF’s use of prison labor. Prior to receiving the letter, UF did not specify how or when the practice would end.
“The university just told us they will be continuing to use prison slavery, a practice that they publicly deemed immoral in June 18's statement, for a year, in the same message that they say they are committed to the work of realizing transformative changes,” said Boose, the co-founder of CAPS and a UF Spring 2020 graduate.
The timeline to end UF’s current contracts allows an additional year of exploiting unpaid and forced laborers, he added. He said the university is “thinking about this in capitalistic and profiteering terms,” and not considering the human impact these contracts will have.
Florida is one of the few states that still relies on unpaid prison labor, according to the Gainesville Sun, and UF uses more prison labor than any other college in the state. And as of May 2019, UF had used 156,684 hours of state prison labor since 2015.
“Those are real laborers doing real labor without pay and without choice,” Boose said. “It's sick that UF decides to brag about the cost-savings that they have sucked out of prison slavery rather than to recognize the ways that they have violently exploited fellow humans.”
Matt Rodriguez, another member of CAPS, said UF should be transparent about how it’s addressing the end of prison labor and other issues dealing with racism on campus.
Students are taking a more active role in the university, he added. They are carefully reviewing and monitoring their school’s actions and making sure they align with their own, he said.
“It is the entire student population, and the entire population of our state, that deserves this information,” he said. “It needs to come straight from the source: the UF administration.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct end date of UF's prison labor contracts: July 1, 2021.