Alabama's HB56, a wide-sweeping anti-migrant law, has proven so economically devastating (duh) that farmers are seeking legislation to force hard labor upon inmates eligible for work release programs, to "help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor."
Alabama isn't the only state, or entity for that matter, to practice such...opportunism.
Join me over the flip~
Alabama has one of the harshest anti-migrant laws in the country, on par with Arizona's law, which has forced migrants to flee the state to avoid imprisonment, causing a predictable shortage of farm labor. As was argued ad nauseum by Democrats, Americans simply do not want to do the hard work of farm labor, which Repubicans were so sure would be the opposite. Thus, Alabama farmers are scrambling to obtain help..as cheaply as possible.
Alabama farmers have proposed using prisoners to work their fields to replace migrants who fled the state after it passed the country’s harshest anti-immigration law, officials said Tuesday.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industry officials met Tuesday in Mobile with farmers to discuss their proposal, a spokeswoman for the department told AFP.
“The suggestion to use prisoners who are eligible for work release programs was made as a way to help farmers fill the gap and find sufficient labor,” said Amy Belcher.
In a refreshing display of sanity, the Alabama Department of Corrections unit isn't having any of it:
...the Alabama Department of Corrections says most of its 2,000 inmates who are eligible for work are busy already.Rachel Maddow blog.
Prison spokesman Brian Corbett says the state has about 2,000 work-release prisoners, and most already have jobs.
Corbett says the prison system isn't the solution to worker shortages caused by the law.
Georgia basically calls Alabama's passage of HB56 forehead-slapping:
In fact, some in Georgia were amazed Alabama did not learn from their mistakes before implementing an immigration law that jeopardized agricultural and construction industries. “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped. Have you all not been paying attention?’” said Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.
The Alabama AG has called for a repealof the most egregious provisions.
Using prisoner labor for private farming operations isn't new. For example, Idaho has used prison labor for potato farms for nearly a decade. The Wall Street Journal extolled the benefits of prison labor on farms saying inmates are "enthusiastic" about their jobs, and the prison-farm business model:
"We're fortunate, we're near a prison here," said Frank van Straalen, chief operating officer of Eurofresh Farms, a Wilcox, Ariz., company employing about 1,200 workers in its greenhouses, about a third of them contracted from Arizona Corrections Industries. Mr. van Straalen said that even with wages as high as $12.50 per hour, few native-born Americans seek jobs in his greenhouses, and the few who do usually quit. Prison laborers are paid around $7.35 per hour, he said.
In reality, corporate prison labor exploits prisoners by forcing them to work, or face longer prison terms or loss of "good time".
Inmates can't pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned "good time." The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: "If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of." This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer.
Huge corporations are also capitalizing on the dirt cheap wages of prison labor: take BP in the Gulf oil spill disaster.
Coastal residents, many of whom had just seen their livelihoods disappear, expressed outrage at community meetings; why should BP be using cheap or free prison labor when so many people were desperate for work? The outfits disappeared overnight....Hiring prison labor is more than a way for BP to save money while cleaning up the biggest oil spill in history. By tapping into the inmate workforce, the company and its subcontractors get workers who are not only cheap but easily silenced—and they get lucrative tax write-offs in the process.Not surprisingly, the majority of prison laborers in the Gulf oil spill were black:
Work crews in Grand Isle, Louisiana, still stand out. In a region where nine out of ten residents are white, the cleanup workers are almost exclusively African-American men. The racialized nature of the cleanup is so conspicuous that Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, sent a public letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward on July 9, demanding to know why black people were over-represented in "the most physically difficult, lowest paying jobs, with the most significant exposure to toxins."
Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.ALEC has been instrumental in the prison-population-boom due to its influence in the passage of stricter sentencing guidelines, privatizing the bail bond and parole processes, and creating private for-profit prisons, which have benefitted two corporations that are major ALEC corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections), the largest private prison firms in the country. (Same link)
Apparently,this is becoming a trend in Republican-led states: under Scott Walker's anti-union leadership, one Wisconsin county has replaced union workers with prison inmates; Georgia has also considered using prison labor for...firefighters.
Something that I found personally hilariously ironic: Human Rights Watch recently reported that Cambodia drafted a similar provision to that of Alabama's Agriculture Board, to permit prison labor to be used for goods made by private firms, and urged the Senate to strike it, citing obligations under the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions against forced labor. Private corporations skirt around this with "exported goods," allowing corporate profit from prisoner labor to remain unabated.
Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days, while simultaneously paying little to no wages. They don’t need to worry about unions or demands for vacation time or raises. Inmates work full-time and are never late or absent because of family problems.