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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.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Prison Women On Farms - Ready To Harvest



To Steve Smith, agri-business manager for Colorado Correctional Industries, the pilot project using women prison inmates to replace missing migrant workers has been a success.

A small success, perhaps - the program has mustered two crews of 10 women each and has served only five farms in Pueblo County. If it expands as harvest demands expand, Smith said he may have to pull in male inmates from other assignments.

Expanding the program much beyond that isn't likely to happen until next year at the earliest, said Department of Corrections Executive Director Ari Zavaras.

Zavaras said the department is receiving requests for the program elsewhere in the state, and although the final go-ahead hasn't been given, he hopes to take it statewide starting next summer.

"That is the direction we want to head in making this a permanent program," Zavaras said. "We started it out as we do with any industry program, as a pilot project until we know the benefits and how they work. At this point in time, we think it has been a tremendous success. We've filled a void, we haven't displaced any law-abiding citizens, the inmates are developing a work ethic. It has all the benefits from the standpoint of teaching the inmates.

"This appears to be a win on all fronts," he added, saying the final decision on taking the program statewide won't come until the end of the year. "We will do a full evaluation at the end of this season. But at this point, our preliminary evaluation is there hasn't been any downside."

The program was started at the suggestion of state Rep. Dorothy Butcher, D-Pueblo, after local farmers complained to her that they had to leave crops in the field last year because of strict new immigration laws adopted by the Colorado Legislature during a special session on illegal immigration last summer.

But Butcher, farmers who have contracted with DOC for inmate crews and Smith himself, all agreed in interviews: The program is a stopgap, a temporary solution for an enduring problem.

"I have been really pleased by the farmers in the program," Smith said. "They've been very pleasant to work with. But I think most of them would prefer to have their migrants back.

"Joe Pisciotta has used the gals the most," he added. "He's happy with the work they've done, but he has a loyalty to his migrants. Some of them had been working for his family for generations."

Zavaras, however, said he's looking more at the big picture.

Not only has the program helped to fill a need in the farming community, but it also fits in nicely with the push he and Gov. Bill Ritter want to see in reducing prison recidivism.

To them, the program helps teach inmates a work ethic and gives them new skills that they could use after they are released from prison.

"Obviously we are pushing hard in addressing recidivism in many program areas, substance abuse, anger control, all of those things," Zavaras said. "But a work program that focuses on a work ethic and developing skills that better equip them as they get close to release, this is one key thing. Be up, ready to go, work as a team. This (farmworker program) would be yet one additional program that should assist us as we continue to address recidivism."

The program started in mid-May with one crew of women from La Vista prison, a medium-security facility in Pueblo. Though farmers were slowed down by a rainy spring, by mid-July the program was expanded to include a second crew of 10 women.

"The (local) farmers haven't really asked for any more," Smith said at the end of July. "In fact, they're not keeping the ones we have busy, right now."

Smith said he wasn't aware of demand for inmate crews in other parts of the state, but he expects local demand to increase at harvest time.

"I may have to take some people off other jobs, and there may be some male crews that will be available," Smith said, adding that inmates and his staff have done "a great job" helping make the program work.

"It's not easy to do in corrections," he said. "We have to get them out early, feed them separately."

And even though all the prisoners in the program volunteered for the field work, there has been turnover when some inmates found out how hard and hot the work could be.

The ones who stayed on, he said, liked it because they could make a lot more money - $4 instead of 60 cents a day to start, with 50-cent increments for each month they continue - and they liked the fresh air and exercise.

(Therein lies the lies. The girls can only work for six months out of the year, so they start at .60 for a month, 1.10 the next month, 1.60 the month after that. DOC is making $200 an hour for two crews. Trust me, the food certainly isn't costing that much)

The farmers pay DOC $9.60 an hour per inmate to cover the prisoners' wages, their supervisors' pay, food and transportation. Smith said that negotiated rate made the program pay for itself.

Pueblo Chieftain


charlie said...

its good to get out of the facility ,but its not right to rip off these prisoners ,they should be paid much more ,i worked on a couple of different prison work crews and they work you like a dog and all i made at the most was a little over a dollar a day ,these prisoners should be getting paid as much as the inmates in territorial do ,who make license plates ,where they can make as much as 200 hundred dollars a month plus performance bonuses to make license plates for about 6 hours a day ,doc can work the same kind of contract for the farm labor as they do for the license plate workers....charlie

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