Prison Abolitionists from Across the Country Block FDOT Vehicles to Draw Connections Between Money Bail and Slavery

Press release from June 17th, 2019 [updated 06/20/19] [Photos available upon request]
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Gainesville, FL — A demonstration began at 7:30 a.m. at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) offices, located at 5007 NE 39th Ave, disrupting the activity of Department of Corrections (FDOC) which has a $19 million contract to lease out prisoners as unpaid slaves to do road work for the State.

This protest came at the close of a weekend-long gathering of activists from across the country, known as the Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) Convergence. The group is also affiliated with the Father’s Day/Juneteenth Bailout rally held at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 17th at the Alachua County Jail on 39th Street, near the FDOT office.

The bailout successfully posted bond on June 18 for a pre-trial prisoner, Gerald, who was being held on a $7,000 bond for drug related charges from three months ago (including marijuana possession), which his elderly parents that rely on him could not afford to pay.

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-Gerald getting on the bus to see his parents after the bailout on June 18th.

Karen Smith, a prison labor organizer with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), says the issues of prison labor contracts and money bail are connected.

“The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office continues holding people on high bail amounts that result in state prison sentences.” Smith stated. “This is equivalent to selling people back into slavery.”

The slavery that Smith and FTP speak of was the topic of a major in-depth investigation by the Jacksonville Times-Union.
Using the slogan #FreeTheDads, the activists say they will continue the Father’s Day Bailout until the Juneteenth holiday on Wednesday, which is a celebration of freedom from chattel slavery. They continue to collect donations which can be made here.

During the protest at the jail, two people were arrested by Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies and later released on their own recognizance.

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The FTP group is targeting FDOT as it is among the largest entities in the state to continue using slave labor, alongside University of Florida. Last year FDOT paid $19 million dollars to lease prisoners, who didn’t see a penny. The FDOT offices in Gainesville are a major regional hub for the agencies activities.

Ironically, both the City of Gainesville and the Alachua County Commission voted to stop exploiting prisoners’ labor earlier this year. As a result, they are creating living wage jobs in the place of these contracts. FDOT can and must do the same.

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People jailed because of money bail are presumed innocent under the Constitution and are only jailed because they are too poor to pay the money required by the court. One out of every 28 children now has an incarcerated parent, over 90% of which are fathers.

This program is sponsored by the Legal Empowerment and Advocacy Hub (LEAH) which is a local affiliate of the Participatory Defense Network, and the Freedom Fund, and several other organizations.

Alachua County is surrounded by prisons, with over a dozen local, state and federal facilities in a 60 mile radius where tens-of-thousands of people are held in cages, underfed, abused, and forced to work with little or no pay. Most of these prisoners’ sentences started at a county jail, where they were faced with state coercion to accept a bad plea deal or go into trial unprepared. Alachua County jail holds hundreds of pre-trial detainees on any given day, who would walk free if they were wealthy enough, and stand a chance at defending themselves in court.

While those with money are released from confinement, those in poverty face harsh choices: languish at risk or accept a guilty plea to get out of jail—often to crimes they didn’t commit. As a result of not having enough money to get bailed out, they succumbed to a deeply flawed justice system where tough-on-crime rhetoric created policies that are not based in actual goals of public safety, rehabilitation, or community health.

Incarcerated, even for a day, an individual is at risk of violence, losing employment, the custody of their children, and housing. Most suicides in jail occur within the first week.

Crime has been declining for decades, yet the number of children with a father in state or federal prison is now estimated over 1.5 million. Estimates suggest that Black and Latinx children are up to six times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than their white peers.

Smith stated, “Incarceration often spans generations. Fathers in prison are, overwhelmingly, fatherless themselves. Youth in father-absent households have significantly higher odds of incarceration. It’s time to organize and break the cycle.”

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