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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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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Inmate Farmhands Plowing Along

Pueblo Chieftain

DENVER — Four years after it began, a pilot program that allowed Colorado prison inmates to perform labor on Pueblo County farms is still gaining altitude.

Touted as a way to reduce the demand for foreign workers in the fields, the effort overseen by the Colorado Department of Corrections' Correctional Industries began in 2007 with 10 women housed at La Vista prison in Pueblo doing the work.

This summer, 50 La Vista inmates are working at Pueblo County farms, and that's just half as many as last year, when 100 inmates were enlisted, according to DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti.

This year the demand for inmate help on the farms was pared by a reduction in crops that were damaged by severe weather, Sanguinetti said.

The program was the brainchild of former state Rep. Dorothy Butcher, D-Pueblo.

Inmates volunteer to participate and must meet a series of criteria — including progress through high-school-equivalency studies and an absence of disciplinary write-ups — to be eligible. They also must be deemed a low risk for escape.

Farmers pay DOC $9.60 an hour for each inmate's work, with $4.50-$8 a day going into the inmate's personal account. If they have outstanding child support or restitution for their crimes, it is applied to that balance.

The remainder funds staff, equipment, food and transportation associated with the work. Any profit beyond that generates productivity bonuses for staff and inmates in the program.

Like all the enterprises of Correctional Industries, it is self-supporting.

Sanguinetti has observed the inmates at work in Pueblo County's fields, and she said they like it, despite pressing physical demands.

"They truly were enjoying what they were doing," she said. "Some used it as ‘get-fit’ time, and they definitely enjoyed the time spent outside."

In August 2008, La Vista inmate Bonnie Neal, 43, who had only been at the prison for a few days, died of a pulmonary embolism while picking watermelons at a Pueblo County farm.

Sanguinetti said no litigation resulted, and that inmates receive basic physical examinations before they're allowed to join the program.


Anonymous said...

Bonuses for staff? How exactly do state employees qualify for "bonuses" for doing their job?

Mary said...

A few calculations: $9.60 per hour X 8 hours=$76.80 per inmate. Giving the maximum $8.00 a day to the inmate (put on books) would then equal $68.80 a day earned per inmate.Currently 50 inmates participating equals $3,440.00 per day; and giving 20 work days per a 30-day month would equal $68,800.00from which equipment and transportation expenses must be allowed for. Food and staff are already paid from state budget allocations. I can see why Correctional Industries is self-supporting with this profit base. But we must remember the inmates do volunteer for they get time outside and "get-fit" time. Perhaps the Correctional Industries will look into more inmate-work ventures and even use some of the profits for benefits for the inmates themselves-like drug treatment programs, education, access to better health care and decent food. Then I might say, "Will wonders never cease?"