Alachua County commission will revisit prison labor topic

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ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. (WCJB)-- The county notified the state on Tuesday that it will no longer use inmates for work projects after some protested what they called the use of “slave labor."

The county voted to end its agreement with the Florida Department of Corrections with a 4-0 vote in December. Commissioner Mike Byerly was absent when the decision was made.

Byerly expressed his concern at Tuesday’s meeting for not being able to vote.

The county commission scheduled a meeting for Jan. 22 to discuss prison labor again at the public hearing at 5 p.m.

“It will be another philosophical discussion on both the pros and the cons of using prison labor,” Alachua County spokesperson Mark Sexton said.

Questions arose over whether inmate labor is "forced labor" and whether it interferes with citizens getting jobs. Others argue that prison labor is a form of the rehabilitation process and that it is voluntary and prisoners can have reduced sentences.

“One of the things that have encouraged the county to participate in the prison labor program is some of these positions are very difficult for the county to hire,” Sexton said. “We have vacancies in these areas all the time so part of the challenge is finding people that are wanting to do work like cleaning litter from the roadway and some of the difficult work involved."