State officials have set their sights on another potential pool of workers to help bridge Georgia’s severe farm labor gap: prisoners.
They came to the farm from Mexico through the federal guest worker program. But Georgia farmers say there is a labor shortage and the state may turn to prison and jail inmates.
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The idea is to put nonviolent inmates — who are spending the end of their prison terms at one of the state’s 13 transitional centers — to work picking fruits and vegetables across Georgia.
This is at least the state’s second attempt to tackle the labor shortages since enacting a tough new immigration law many farmers blame for their problems. State officials started experimenting last summer by encouraging criminal probationers to work on the farms, but results are mixed.
State officials hope the nonviolent offenders would be motivated to learn new skills, earn money and eventually land steady jobs that would help them once they get out of prison.
The prisoners would help fill open jobs in Georgia’s $68.8 billion agricultural industry, the state’s largest. And Farmers could become eligible for federal Work Opportunity tax credits by hiring the offenders once they finish their terms.
State Corrections Department officials confirmed the details of the latest plan Wednesday, calling it a joint effort between the agency, Gov. Nathan Deal and state agriculture and labor officials. They said the idea is still under development, and they have not set a start date.
The work would be voluntary for the prisoners. Pay would be set by farmers, though it would be at least minimum wage. Prisoners would pay for their transportation to and from the farms.
Offenders are referred to the state’s transitional centers by prison officials and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles based on their criminal records and behavior in prison. Wages they earn on work release are sent to the centers. Portions are applied to room and board, fines, fees, restitution and child support. The rest is held for them until they are released. More than 2,700 inmates are in the transitional centers now.