A new program is taking shape in Georgia, one that will reportedly help farmer’s while giving ex-inmates and probationers a chance to develop job skills and earn money. But the plan isn’t without its problems. While the Governor is hoping to tweak the plan to make it a win-win, others have doubts.
The state of Georgia has a $68.8 billion agricultural industry and the farmers who produce this industry are having a difficult time staying ahead. Many blame the new immigration law for scaring migrant workers away, with up to $74.9 million in crop losses tied to labor shortages on Georgia farms. Farmers say they have about 11,080 jobs open and no one lining up to take them.
The new immigration law was supported by people who said that it would keep illegal immigrants from taking American jobs. But the average unemployed American doesn’t seem to be interested in working on the farms, doing back breaking labor for little in return. A solution, the Governor hopes, is to have convicted criminals do it instead.
A pilot program took place this summer, putting non-violent probationers to work. They would put in their time before returning to one of many transitional institutions after work. Their pay, which had to be more than minimum wage, was transferred to the institution who took out payments for room and board, meals, child support, and restitution (as in theft cases), before holding the remaining funds until the inmate reached their release date.
The pilot program received mixed responses, from all involved. Farmers found the inmates were far less productive than their former migrant workers, unable to harvest produce at the same rate. One of the goals of the program was to give farmers a supply of future employees, those inmates who could be employed even after their release. Unfortunately, farmers found only about 15-20 worthwhile candidates out of 104 participants.
Some probationers quit the program due to the long hours, demanding labor, and heat they experienced while working farms in Sumter and Colquitt counties.
But even among the farmers who couldn’t find replacements for their missing migrant workers, the new program shows promise. “There were some obvious challenges with using probation labor,” said Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. “At the end of the day, both producers agreed that the program had potential to meet the niche needs for farmers desperate for workers.”
What are the chances that you, as someone facing criminal charges, will be sent to work in this program? Well, it’s not very likely, even if you are sentenced to probation. The program is only for those people who are living in transitional institutions and are working on their release. The program isn’t finalized yet and the state has yet to determine to what extent it will be used.