Inmates across Florida have begun striking over work conditions they say amount to “modern day slavery.” The prisoners are refusing to take part in work assignments until they are paid and other demands are met.
On Monday, Florida prisoners launched a large scale work strike that organizers said will last at least a month.
Last month, a group of prisoners announced Operation Push in a statement to the advocacy group Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. The organizers said that during the protest “no prisoners will go to their job assignments.”
“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,” the statement said. “This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.”
The inmates are demanding that the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) “end prison slavery” by paying prisoners for their work.
Florida is one of five states that does not pay inmates for their work. Inmates have been used as unpaid labor to clean up storm debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and many other jobs including, cooking, cleaning and handling the maintenance inside the prisons themselves.
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) released an interview with one of the protesters on Sunday, who argued that the state is creating higher rates of recidivism by not paying prisoners.
“If I were living in a neighborhood and someone were coming from a situation like this after spending 10, 15, 20 years in the system, I would rather that person come home educated with a couple of dollars in their pocket so that they’re not relying on the skill, whatever skill, set that landed them in prison,” the protester said. “I think that would be helpful for society that creates a revolving door where you lock people up and just set them up for failure so that they keep on coming back.”
Once the prisoners win their pay demand, their next aim is for the DOC to end price gouging at canteens, where prisoners said that they have to pay $17 for a case of soup that would cost $4 on the outside.
“This is highway robbery without a gun,” the statement says. “It’s not just us that they’re taking from. It’s our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of. We got to put a stop to this!”
Finally, the prisoners are asking the DOC to reinstate parole with incentives that reward their prisoners. Currently, Florida offers inmates a “gaintime” incentive, which gives an inmate the opportunity to reduce their overall sentence. However, the protesters argue that the incentives do not matter to inmates who are serving life.
Exactly how many protesters are taking part in Operation Push is still unknown. The DOC canceled weekend visitation at the Blackwater Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa and the Everglades Correctional Institution on Monday.
Florida has the third-largest prison population in the US, with 97,000 inmates, according to DOC data. The DOC says African-Americans make up about a third of the state’s prison population, while making up less than 17 percent of the state population, according to US Census data.
Dozens of activists across the state staged their own demonstrations on Monday, calling for the DOC to hear their demands.
On Friday, organizers released a list of five ways to support the protesters, which includes attending a demonstration, sharing news of the strike on social media with the hashtag #OperationPUSH, or writing a letter to an inmate.