Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Plantation Revisited -- Prisoners on Farms

This editorial appeared in the Denver Post today and the one following appeared in the Pueblo Chieftain. According to the Post's information, prisoners working on farms are going to make around minimum wage. If that's the case, they will the highest paid inmates in Colorado, and I would applaud. I don't believe it though.

The gate check for people being released from prison on parole is $100. That has been the case since 1973. And they only get that check once.If they are back in prison on a revocation they don't get anything from the state, they only have what they earn. Typical inmate pay is .60 a day. They are required to pay for their own hygiene, stamps, medical supplies, and exboritant phone rates to call home. A trip to medical costs $5.00 a visit. Add to that the 20% that comes off the top for child support and restitution. The things that they buy from Canteen for hygiene are at the same price or more than you would pay for at the store. Average monthly pay is about $10. Correctional Industries top earners make $2.00 a day, but those jobs are limited and not available statewide. We are trying to reduce recidivisim, and according to D.O.C, seventy percent of the people being released are being released homeless (932 people were released in Colorado last month) and with little or no money to get started on.

A plan to enlist prison inmates to work on Colorado farms that are experiencing a labor shortage has the potential to solve a host of problems at once.

The benefits of the opportunity to inmates can be substantial. Even if the farm skills aren't marketable outside prison, the learned work ethic can be a huge plus. Inmates who work in prison industries have a recidivism rate of 25 percent, half the rate for prisoners who don't work.

Regular labor shifts also mean the inmates have less time and incentive to get into trouble while in prison, said Steve Smith, agriculture manager for Colorado Correctional Industries. "We want to send them home tired," he said.

Details of the program have yet to be worked out, but authorities hope to get it off the ground within the next few months. Farmers would pay the cost of supervision, but since inmates typically make only a few dollars a day, the hourly rate is likely to be about minimum wage. About 4,500 inmates are eligible to work in the voluntary program, Morgan said, but it probably will start small.

Denver Post

Now, according to the Pueblo Chieftain, small communities around the state (Reps. Rafael Gallegos, D-Antonito, Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, and Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, all said their areas, too, are suffering from the same labor shortages) are jumping on the prisoner farm bandwagon, but they are told they would have to wait until the Pueblo pilot program was ready. The cost of transportation and supervision would not allow for the farmers to pay the exorbitant rate of minimum wage and the Chieftain reports that the prisoners would only be making 60 cents a day. So, what's really going on? Slave labor or real opportunity?

Butcher said contracts for five Pueblo County farms are in the draft stage that would call for about 100 inmates to work area fields, though Butcher said more farms in the county are hoping to be included.

Those farmers, who could employ the inmates from March until November, are expected to pay minimum wage, plus the cost of getting them to and from the fields. The inmates would only make 60 cents a day, the regular rate prisoners make in other work programs.

Butcher said the program not only has the potential to helps farmers statewide deal with the labor shortage, but also teach inmates valuable skills and help reduce recidivism in the state's prisons.

Pueblo Chieftain

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