Universities are facing mounting pressure to stop using the unpaid labor of incarcerated people. In June, the University of Florida announced it was ending the use of prison labor on its agricultural research farms, a practice once praised by administrators. Questions remain on whether other universities in the U.S. South will follow suit.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has relied on incarcerated people from state prisons and county jails for at least a decade to keep some of its agricultural research stations running. As the practice comes to an end, administrators are reallocating funds and finding new ways to power the state’s agricultural research.
Proponents of prison labor programs say they provide valuable job skills for post-incarceration life. But there is insufficient data to back up these claims from universities and correctional institutions.
Across the South, students are pressuring universities to address entrenched racial inequities. But because of the institutional and budgetary challenges universities and prisons face, finding solutions will not be straightforward.