Farmer in the Cell

Cashing in on prisoners


After a crackdown on illegal immigration, farmers in the rural area outside Pueblo, Colorado, found they lacked the labor to help them plant and harvest crops. When the farmers pressed their case with state Rep. Dorothy Butcher (D-Pueblo), she offered a proposal: Why not use prison inmates?

In May a private company, Colorado Correctional Industries, will launch a pilot project putting one or two groups, totaling eight to 10 prisoners apiece, to work in Colorado fields. It will be the latest of more than 30 work programs authorized by the state's corrections department, but the first to fill a need created by an exodus of Mexican migrant workers. For $10 per inmate per hour, convicts will till fields, plant seeds, and eventually pick crops.

Not that the prisoners will be raking in the lucre. According to Alison Morgan, the state's private prisons director, inmates will get 63 cents an hour for their labor, 20 percent of which will be taken to pay for "restitution and child support." The rest, she says, they can use "to buy phone time, or other services, or they can use it when they go home."