community Service means Business!

8 March 2007

What else to do with our prison communities

SVTC: pubs with descriptions

Toxic Sweatshops:
How UNICOR Prison Recycling Harms Workers, Communities, the Environment, and the Recycling Industry
A 2006 SVTC exposé report on abuse of prison labor in the e-waste recycling industry.
For the first time, prison inmates and staff blow the whistle on deplorable health and safety conditions within UNICOR, a controversial government corporation operated under the Dept. of Justice that uses captive prison labor in a range of industries, including the dismantling of toxic e-waste. Read more

Inmates Will Replace Migrants in Colorado Fields - New York Times

Inmates Will Replace Migrants in Colorado Fields - New York Times
Under the program, which has drawn criticism from groups concerned about immigrants’ rights and from others seeking changes in the criminal justice system, farmers will pay a fee to the state, and the inmates, who volunteer for the work, will be paid about 60 cents a day, corrections officials said.

Concerned about the possible shortage of field labor, Dorothy B. Butcher, a state representative from Pueblo and a supporter of the program, said, “The workers on these farms do the weeding, the harvesting, the storing, everything that comes with growing crops for the market.”

....Although chain gangs and prison farms have long been staples of American correctional culture, the concept of inmates working on private farms is unusual. But there are signs that other states are following suit. The Iowa Department of Corrections is considering a similar program because of a migrant labor shortage in that state.

Several Iowa farmers called recently to request inmates in lieu of migrant workers, said Roger Baysden, the director of the state’s prison industries program. One farmer asked for as many as 200 inmates, Mr. Baysden said.

“This feels like the re-invention of the plantation,” said Christie Donner, the group’s executive director. “You have a captive labor force essentially working for their room and board in order to benefit the employer. This isn’t a job training program. It’s an exploitative program.”

But Ari Zavaras, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, said the merit of a hard day’s work outdoors was invaluable to an inmate.

“They won’t be paid big bucks, but we’re hoping this will help our inmates pick up significant and valuable job skills,” Mr. Zavaras said. “We’re also assisting farmers who, if they don’t get help, are facing an inability to harvest their crops.”

With the start of the farming season looming, Colorado’s farmers are scrambling to figure out which crops to sow and in what quantity. Some are considering turning to field corn, which is mechanically harvested. And they are considering whether they want to pay for an urban inmate who could not single out a ripe watermelon or discern between a weed and an onion plant.

“This is not a cure-all,” Mr. Pisciotta said. “What our farm laborers do is a skill. They’re born with it, and they’re good at it. It’s not an easy job.”

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