GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida President Kent Fuchs announced on Thursday, June 18, that the university will end the use of inmate labor at UF/IFAS research sites across Florida.
Due to COVID-19, inmates have not been working on UF/IFAS research facilities since mid-March to protect their health and safety. Before the pandemic, on a given day, up to 100 inmates from county and state correctional facilities were working at nine UF/IFAS sites around Florida.
The inmates participating in this voluntary program received the same safety and training oversight as UF employees on the farms, including access to fresh water, restrooms, frequent breaks and lunch on site. On the farms, inmates supported research activities by planting, caring for, and harvesting crops in fields and greenhouses, working with livestock, and operating machinery; these activities provided inmates with job skills and other technical training. Most correctional facilities received the fruits and vegetables harvested on the farm for use in institutional kitchens.
“As educators, we strongly believe in second chances and equal opportunity, and we saw inmates’ work on our research farms as a way they could contribute to furthering agricultural research for the benefit of all stakeholders while gaining training and new skills. However, the symbolism of inmate labor doesn’t align with that goal,” said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of UF/IFAS. “We will consider how we can continue to offer educational opportunity to inmates in the future.”
UF/IFAS is a major source of agricultural and natural resources research for the 300 specialty crops in Florida, which is a $137 billion gross state product contributions industry. UF/IFAS is working with UF leadership to find new sources of farm support to continue the contribution and impact of research being done.
Inmate labor at UF/IFAS sites is valued at an estimated $1,690,500 per year, and the work performed at the sites directly supports research for Florida agriculture, which supplies most of the winter fruits and vegetables for the U.S. East Coast, as well as forage crops for the livestock industry and other commodities. This figure is a measure of saved labor costs based on $14 per hour.
In addition to ending inmate labor, Fuchs outlined a number of other steps the university will take to address racism and inequity. Read the full June 18 message from President Fuchs.
–Samantha Murray, UF/IFAS