By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — At the swipe of the mayor’s pen, Miami-Dade will become the latest county in Florida to use prisoners for manual labor in order to save taxpayer dollars.
In an ordinance introduced by county commissioners Sally Heyman and Jose “Pepe” Diaz, eligible prisoners will work on “streets, bridges, and other public works” in order to save the county money and to “serve idle time” by offering unskilled labor for the prisoners’ benefit.
In recent years, Florida has expanded this type of arrangement due in part to the state law that authorizes counties to employ prisoners in maintaining infrastructure and in any situation that would prove “necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the county,” according the statute.
According to Florida Department of Corrections, inmates worked a total of 6.6 million hours in 2009-10 and saved the state nearly $60 million.
Union critics oppose the program because they say it takes jobs away from ordinary government workers who otherwise would do the job.
“The last thing I need is for city and county agencies to start to rid themselves of employees only to replace them with prisoners,” said Kevin Smith, president of the local Transport Workers Union in Brevard County, where prison labor has been in use for several years. “That surely won’t help the economy, or the middle class is this area,” he told Florida Today in 2011.
Heyman, the Miami-Dade commission, denies that prison labor will cost any county jobs.
“The state of Alabama used prisoners to clean up the oil spill and it never took one person out of their regular job,” she said. “We’re approving this ordinance because these are jobs that we will not pay anyone to do. These are things not being done, so we are not replacing salaried employees,” Heyman told Florida Watchdog.
“What we’re proposing is having them pick up litter on the side of the street, clean up graffiti, prepare walls for painting and garden, anything we can do to save the taxpayers money.”
Heyman said the ordinance will focus on individuals in custody who are about to stand trial, minor traffic offenders who cannot pay bond and those on probation.
“More than 400 prisoners are used for essential work in correctional facilities in Florida,” Heyman said. “When we pass the ordinance, it will be up to the mayor to lead.”
The Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department operates one of the largest prison systems in the country, housing about 6,000 prisoners in six detention centers.
Marydell Guevara, assistant director at the county Department of Corrections, said approximately 10 percent of Miami-Dade prisoners have been arrested or sentenced for minor offenses and would be eligible for a work program once it is implemented.
Contact Marianela Toledo: [email protected].
Watchdog.org’s Florida Bureau Chief Yaël Ossowski translated this article.
— Edited by Kelly Carson, [email protected]
— Marianela Toledo (@mtoledoreporter) November 19, 2012