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Florida prison laborer dies after job site accident

Eric Welch was an inmate working for PRIDE Enterprises when he died in an unspecified accident

A Florida inmate in a work program died Wednesday morning after an accident at his assigned job site in Belle Glade, said PRIDE Enterprises Chief Administrative Officer Dee Kiminki.

Eric Welch, 58, had been in the work program for about a year, Kiminki said. He worked as a tool room clerk and equipment operator before his death. Six inmates were working the day of the accident.

Kiminki said the accident happened at 10:30 a.m. but did not specify what happened. She said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which looks at all inmate deaths, is still investigating. Welch had been sentenced to prison in 2013 for grand theft and burglary charges out of Broward County.

PRIDE Enterprises operates out of Brandon and runs on prison labor. The Florida Department of Corrections sends inmates to work at PRIDE facilities, and the products made by inmates are frequently sold back to the state government.

In 2018, inmates worked more than 3 million hours to make $1.1 million, amounting to about 37 cents an hour. The company made $1.2 million in profits.

Since 2011, state agencies have in total spent more than $225,000,000 in purchase orders to PRIDE Enterprises, according to records. Florida law says that if an item or service provided by inmate labor is of a similar price and quality of another item, a state agency must buy the one produced by inmates.

State statutes promote inmate labor, saying all inmates except those who are security risks should work at least 40 hours a week.

″The department shall have as a continuous goal the reduction of inmate idleness in the prison system and shall incorporate this goal and that of maximizing the use of inmates while incarcerated in its strategic plan," the statute says.

In December, the company faced a cyber attack, but Kiminki said then she didn’t think the company was targeted. The attack delayed invoices sent out to Florida drivers, because a computer system where an inmate manually reviews and inputs photos of license plates from toll checkpoints was down.

Over the past five years, more than 2,000 inmates have died in prison, according to the FDC website.