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Inmates Say Florida Has Turned Them Into Slaves. They're Revolting

Operation PUSH begins Monday
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2018 10:35 AM CST
On MLK Day, Florida Prisoners Revolt Against Their 'Slavery'
Stock photo of a prison.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Many Americans aren't working on Martin Luther King Day; others are protesting work that they describe as slave labor. The Guardian reports on an "unusual" protest organized by prisoners throughout the state of Florida that kicks off Monday. The primary grievance: that they're forced to work and paid nothing—not even the nominal 15 cents an hour some prisoners see in other states, for instance. They're seeking a fair wage and hope to arrive at that end via the monthlong Operation PUSH, during which they plan to not show up for work assignments. Said the prisoners in a statement, "Our goal is to make the governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total breakdown."

  • As for those millions: The Intercept, which reports at least eight prisons have inmates who plan to participate in the protest, notes that in addition to the work done in the prisons, "community work squads" logged 3.15 million hours of work—worth $38 million, and which included Hurricane Irma cleanup—throughout the state in 2017.

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  • How they're paid: In exchange for their work, prisoners get time shaved off their sentences, reports the Intercept, which doesn't detail how much. But an ACLU lawyer says this often ends up being worthless as these prisoners often see their time extended as punishment for "made-up" offenses.
  • A bus ticket and $50: The full statement from strike organizers, who are also seeking an end to commissary price gouging and the reinstatement of parole, echoes the perceived worthlessness of "gain time" and explains that what they're handed when they do get to leave—"$50 and a bus ticket to parts unknown"—"is not working for us." Should they be paid even a modest amount, they argue they'd be able to save money to help get them off on the right foot.
  • The legal footing: In a September article, the Miami New Times points out that not paying inmates is protected under the 13th Amendment, which outlaws slavery "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."
  • As for that price gouging: The statement gives one seemingly egregious example, saying that a $4 case of soup sells for $17 on the inside. "This is highway robbery without a gun," the statement reads. The Department of Corrections told the Intercept this isn't so and shared this canteen price list.
  • Speaking of work: Florida's prison system has a seemingly ironic problem: It's plagued by understaffing, which the Miami Herald reports is extreme enough that some inmates are no longer getting recreation time because there aren't enough guards to supervise them.
(Read more prisoners stories.)

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