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 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.