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To Meet Farm-Labor Shortages, Idaho Puts Inmates on the Job

An Idaho state lawmaker says she plans to sponsor a bill in the 2018 legislative session that would expand a program allowing agricultural businesses to use state inmate labor if they can’t hire enough workers. Six businesses — two fruit companies and four potato-related companies — use the program now with a fluctuating number of inmates, varying from 150 to 261, at work, says Capital Press.

State Representative Patti Anne Lodge was author of the 2014 bill that created the program as a way to help farmers and to rehabilitate prisoners. “The ag industry is the most important industry in the state of Idaho, and we’ve got to have the workers,” she told Capital Press. The 2014 law spelled out the types of businesses that could participate, such as those with perishable food crops. Lodge says her upcoming bill would allow more sectors of agriculture into the program.

Andrea Sprengel, who oversees the program for Idaho Correctional Industries, said the program is intended to resolve labor shortages, not allow businesses to get cheap help. The companies are required to pay the prevailing wage and to certify they tried to hirer locally. “Some of the money the inmate makes goes into a victims’ restitution program and some goes to pay for the cost of the program. The inmate keeps a portion,” said Capital Press.

Earlier this month, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting described a different experience in northeastern Oklahoma for residents of a rehab center. The men were sent to rehab by the courts and ended up working at a poultry processing plant. The rehab pocketed their pay. “Across the country, judges increasingly are sending defendants to rehab instead of prison or jail,” said Reveal. “In the rush to spare people from prison, some judges are steering defendants into rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry.”

FERN’s Ag Insider. Produced by FERN
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