Vidalia farmers turn to prison system for harvest help after immigration crackdown
July 9th, 2012
03:30 PM ET
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Relinda Walker still can't believe what she heard. Incredulity seeps into in her slow Southern drawl as she repeats the price – only 60 cents for a pound of organic Vidalia onions. Incredible.

Walker, an organic farmer in south Georgia has seen great change in her industry, but this price, about 40 cents cheaper than she could ever conceivably charge, really gives her pause. She wants to pay fair wages to her American workers, and she's unwilling to take on the compromise made by some other Georgia farmers, using inmates to process her crop.

This time of year, Vidalias are on the minds and in the mouths of many food fanatics in and around the Southeast. These golden orbs inspire the kind of passion normally reserved for fine wines and cheese. Devotees feature the sweet beauties in recipes handed down from grandmothers, and pricey restaurants put them front and center on their menus during the scant months they are in season. Like Champagne is to France, Vidalias are to parts of south Georgia.

The affection for this crop isn't lost on Walker. "It's a labor of love," she sighs. The onions take up a lot of land and labor, and are prone to disease. Since she grows organically, there's also the matter of hand weeding, rather than relying on chemicals.

In a good year, she says, the crop makes her some money. But despite the low margin for profit and the backbreaking labor every September, Walker plants the onion seeds. She just plain likes doing it, she says. "In the winter when there's not a lot going on, you've still got those green shoots."

This year, those green shoots produced a good crop but she still can't get over those low prices she's hearing about. Like many farmers, Walker has a lot on her mind in addition to weather, weeds and water. While it’s great to have beautiful onions lined up row after row, they’re useless if you can’t get them out of the ground. Unlike other farmers, Walker says she never finds herself short of labor. The hard part is finding the money to pay fair wages for the hands that pick her crop.

For the past few months, the issue of farm labor has been front and center in Georgia. That's because last year, the state passed HB 87 - a tough immigration law modeled after Arizona's HB 1070. As a result, many farmers complained they had issues finding the farm labor they needed after HB 87 passed. It seemed that migrant workers didn’t even bother looking for jobs in the Peach State, and farmers were already having a difficult time filling positions with laborers on guest worker visas because of their cost and paperwork.

The farmers commissioned a study from the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development to determine the extent of damage the shortage had done. The study examined seven staple Georgia crops, Vidalia onions included. The findings were shocking: 18 Vidalia-producing farms lost an estimated $16,312,345 and 835 jobs. In total, the seven crops studied lost almost $75 million and more than 5,200 jobs because of the labor shortage.

The state stepped in, with the suggestion of using probationers to do the work. The plan has helped. Farmers were able to save some of their crops, and a section of society that often struggles to find work was given the opportunity to play a small role in solving a statewide problem.

This season, one onion farmer has turned to the state again - only this time, current prisoners are being allowed to help with the harvest. The program is small: just one farm using nine transitional center prisoners to help harvest and pack onions. The farmer initially granted media access to his farm but later declined CNN's request.

Stephen Everett, one of the men participating in the program did speak with CNN by phone. Everett, who is serving a multiple year sentence for burglary, volunteered to work on the farm and said he enjoyed "being in a work environment with other people."

The 42-year-old Georgia native is no stranger to farm labor; his family runs a cattle farm and he plans on working there should he be granted parole later this year. Everett and eight other inmates will have a few more weeks working with the onions, pulling down a minimum wage paycheck. The farmers get a subsidy from the government to cover part of the cost. They harvest, sort and ship the onions. Once the harvest is done, prison officials say they have no plans to work out similar arrangements with other farms or crops. So in Georgia, it's a small and temporary patch for what many farmers say is a larger problem with labor supply.

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling over Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which Georgia’s law was modeled after; it’s clear that the issue will remain a prominent one. Relinda Walker is just happy there’s a cost-effective, albeit temporary solution. She regularly gets calls from local folks, American citizens, she says, looking for farm work. The problem is, she says, they’re too expensive to pay. She could hire laborers on a guest worker visa, but there are additional costs like transportation and housing that make that option an expensive one.

Then there’s the issue of verification. As of July 1, employers in Georgia with between 100 and 500 employees are required to use the E-Verify system for new hires. This system compares an employee’s information to Social Security and Immigration records and verifies citizenship. Though E-Verify is voluntary is some states, it is required for most employers in Georgia

While the politics of the matters are worked out hundreds of miles away in Washington, all Walker can do is look forward to next Vidalia onion season and hope she can afford the hands that harvest her labor of love.

Previously - Vidalia onions – accept no impostors and Peanut butter and Vidalia onions and other strange sandwich delights

Also - Chefs with Issues: Immigrants in the kitchen and Comments: the cost of immigrant kitchen labor and How the modern day tomato came to be

soundoff (694 Responses)
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  3. Dave

    This is a conflict of interest, sure it's technically voluntary. With money to be made off prisoners the goverment may wan't to incarcerate more, maybe to the point of taking the innocent.

    July 12, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • mytrueshurts

      U.S.A. is the land with a private prison enterprize which is seling to holdshares in the stock market a way to invest and make profits. The resentement and hate is in the hearth of a lot of Americans that today are feeling the same felings that was in the hearth of those Natives Americans few hundres years back in time. What a life! The desendents of those murderes land ripoffers,today behave like those Natives Americans.

      December 4, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  4. Johnnie

    The idea of using prison labor is long overdue and its implementation would surely cut cost not only to consumers but also our budgets. As a nation we spend taxpayer’s money to house prisoners and their welfare and this idea makes complete sense of retribution. Streets and neighborhood cleaning in addition to other services in the municipality must be applied to prisoner’s retribution to the society. I agree 100% to this idea and see nothing wrong especially at this difficult time of cost cutting.

    July 12, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  5. RD

    Someone who volunteers is not a slave.

    July 12, 2012 at 7:18 am |
  6. liz

    Calling this situation slavery is an insult to those who in the past were slaves and those who in many parts of the world still are.And I agree with the poster that stated prisoners in good standing should be allowed the opportunity to be used as a work force in other needed positions as well-It probably wouldn't hurt Bernie Madoff to pick a few onions either.

    July 12, 2012 at 4:46 am |
  7. Best. Program. Ever.

    I think it's great that the government is putting low risk prisoners to good use by having them harvest crops. This is exactly what the government should be doing with prisoners – using them to do the jobs that "no american wants". Perhaps this will make potential criminals think twice before they commit a crime. No more "free" 3 hots and a cot. Now, you've got to earn it.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  8. JD

    Inmates and those on welfare should be used for stuff like this. Any of those jobs that some people claim no American will take, let inmates and those on taxpayer money do them.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • GJ

      shame on you expecting people who are on the dole to work. shame on you for expecting people who are in prison to work. Isn't it enough that we provide them with a living already!.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:44 am |
      • GJ

        I had placed sarcasm quotes around the previous comment and CNN removed them.

        July 12, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  9. pgh

    Why stop at prisoners harvesting onions? Why not make them assist in rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of this country? (Roads, bridges, sewer systems, locks, dams, high speed rail etc etc etc). There is no reason why all that work needs to be done strictly by union, expensive labor!!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • RuRu

      Amen to that! Get them off their lazy butts and put them to work. Prisoners are earning way more per hour to sit in jail day after day after day while I go out to work to keep them there.

      July 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • GJ

      I agree with JD, why stop at prisoners. We have people out there drawing a check - long term unemployment, and welfare, why not let them work on the infrastructure. Not sure I want the prisoners out there using heavy equipment. :)

      July 12, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  10. waterdragon76

    Reading comprehension must be optional here. No one is forcing the prisoners to work – no one is putting a gun to their heads. They volunteer for it. They get paid. How is this slavery again? They may want to be out – this is the way. Is it prime? Probably not. Is it still a choice (and one that slaves didn't get)? Yes.

    July 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Bob

      How much do they get paid? It does not say. My guess is that they get paid less than the minimum wage. Which creates a slippery slope with regards to corporate prisons funding the campaigns of judges so that more people are thrown in jail to provide workers for their farm subsidiaries.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
      • Matt

        "Everett and eight other inmates will have a few more weeks working with the onions, pulling down a minimum wage paycheck."

        July 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
      • Julian Alien

        I see where it can go wrong like you say,but so far they are voluntary(Ever been to jail?You would be happy to pick onions too!),and get paid minimum wage which they can spend on commissary.Traditionally,farmers would have their children manage the farms,before the days of relying on immigrants to do the labor.I asked my Granny who picked the vegetables when she was a kid,and she said,"we did'!'That was how kids earned money for things they wanted in the Summer".She said she picked cotton,beans,tobacco,and everything else.Of course that was in the 20's when the finest tobacco was grown in Florida.I imagine hemp will be grown for fuel,and tobacco will be grown here again one day out of common sense.

        July 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Marvin E Woody Sr

      I absolutely agree, few responders seem to have read the article. just the headline and immediately started with the slavery junk! I think it should be expanded to include all manual labor choirs.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  11. Dusty

    Why are so many people declaring this slavery? Don't people know that programs such as these are rewards for good behavior? Prisoners attempt to EARN the ability to get out of prison for a short public works program like picking crops, cleaning up the roadside, etc. Don't forget that they are PAID to do these activities. If a prisoner doesn't want to perform the task, then they sit in their cell instead (which they would have done if the program weren't available). They have a choice, unlike slaves.

    July 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  12. Ray

    Since the majority of inmates are African American this is a clear move towards "legal" slavery. Don't give me this "room and board" crap, most of these inmates were sent to prison over non-violent drug offenses due to the failed war on drugs. When you see lines of African Americans in fields picking cotton and detasseling corn you white folk will feel real nice driving by in your air conditioned car, won't you?

    July 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Techsupport

      Slaves didn't get paid. They also didn't have a choice in the matter. These people have both.

      July 12, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Guest

      Wow, what a sad, angry and racist person you are. And to top it all off, you didn't even bother to read the article closely enough to find that these inmates are PAID FOR THEIR WORK which is sorta different from slavery. Just too caught up in the opportunity to let that garbage spew from your fingertips.

      July 12, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • GJ

      First they are not inmates, they are probationers, second they are not doing this under duress - did you read the article.

      "The state stepped in, with the suggestion of using probationers to do the work. The plan has helped. Farmers were able to save some of their crops, and a section of society that often struggles to find work was given the opportunity to play a small role in solving a statewide problem.

      This season, one onion farmer has turned to the state again – only this time, current prisoners are being allowed to help with the harvest. The program is small: just one farm using nine transitional center prisoners to help harvest and pack onions. The farmer initially granted media access to his farm but later declined CNN's request.

      Stephen Everett, one of the men participating in the program did speak with CNN by phone. Everett, who is serving a multiple year sentence for burglary, volunteered to work on the farm and said he enjoyed "being in a work environment with other people." "

      July 12, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Julian Alien

      Then vote for Ron Paul,he wants to pardon non violent,small amount,drug related convicts.He say's it is not only a waste of the taxpayers money, but it leaves kids without Dads, and 72% of black kids grow up fatherless.The prisoners out of jail are missing out on skills that they need to land a job,and ofttimes end up committing some petty crime to make money.Repeat cycle.Sure, some are hard heads that refuse to obey the law even when given a chance.They can crack corn for all I care.

      July 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  13. TxArmadillo

    It is interesting that the inmate cited in the article volunteered to do the work and said he “enjoyed being in a work environment with other people." I wonder why someone with this attitude behaved in a way that sent him to prison.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  14. southboca

    Are you sure we're getting upset about the right issue? Georgia passed some knee-jerk legislation targeted primarily against Hispanic illegal immigrants. It had unintended consequences - turns out a lot of Hispanics don't want to work or live in Georgia now - regardless of immigration status. As a result the state has lost a lot of workers and money: The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association estimates a loss of $391 million and 3,260 jobs. To help offset those losses, the Georgia government set up a small, temporary program that lets NINE (yes, really, only 9) halfway house prisoners out to havest onions for a few weeks. They don't plan to do it again.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™@southboca

      Finally, a voice of reason! Thank you.

      July 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Julian Alien

      You also have to remember that these numbers are not separated by class.Mega corporation farms will be hit worse in the long run and hopefully go out of business.Right now these corporations are strong enough to manipulate the prices to try to force the small farms out of business because they own the very packers that buy the onions.Once communities get their own packing and shipping back,that is when the farmer will see some profit for their hard labor.
      It is not going to happen overnight,but it must happen if we are going to save the American farmers.

      July 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  15. clubschadenfreude

    No reason to buy onions, or any crops, from idiots who want to keep immigrants out but are too stupid to realize that this will mean their crops won't get picked. Now they need to rely on what amounts to slave labor. I guess slavery hasn't left the South after all.

    July 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Matt

      Um, it is not the farmers that pushed the legislation. It's the Armchair Patriots. Who will probably whine when they cannot find local peaches or Vidalias in their suburban Publix.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  16. jrb

    i didn't read all the posts but i'm pretty sure....yep, pretty sure the prisoners are being paid minimum wage. now, i may not use proper punctuation, but i'm pretty sure i was taught history in school and i don't remember learning where slaves were paid much of anything.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  17. onestarman

    Picking COTTON for The MAN. Just Like The Good Olde Days. The Days when a Plantation OWNED its Work Force is Remembered Fondly by the KKK and the GOP Leadership.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  18. Keith

    Cool, the Republicans finally got us back to slavery.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  19. Econ 101

    1. If you have prisoners do the work, you're putting the taxes that YOU paid to the IRS into the farmer's bank account.
    That's a form of entitlement, known as "corporate welfare"...

    July 11, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Dusty

      I worked at a grocery store in high school. I processed Western Union transfers from the US to Mexico by the hundreds every month from day laborers. Would you prefer tax dollars to be recirculated within the United States or your salary earned by immigrants who send it home to stimulate their own local economy?

      July 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
      • Techsupport

        They would be in prison anyway, leaching up funds for nothing. More money in the farmers pocket means more competitive prices, which means more people could afford better food. Farming should be highly encouraged.

        July 12, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  20. frustrated

    I don't quite understand people. Why is this an issue? Do you know why most (I say most becuase you have those instances of wrong convictions) go to jail? Because they break the law, and after they break the law they are given free room and board. And do you know who pays for all this....all of us tax payers – at least those of us tax payers that actually pay tax and don't get EVERYTHING back in a refund every year....but that's a whole other subject. I don't see a problem in replacing the "illigal" labor with prison labor. The only problem I had with the illigal stuff is that they are in the country not paying taxes – make them pay taxes and I'm ok, but it's not ok to be here and not contribute. And let's face it, the jobs that they work, how many of us are really willing to do that kind of labor. Have the prisoners do it, it will help everyone. It's not slavery – they put themselves in that position – thier fault!

    July 11, 2012 at 5:29 am |
    • Keith

      It is an issue because we are trying to stop Slavery, not find ways to justify it.

      July 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • southboca

      We have a system in place that some illegal immigrants use to pay taxes. It is the ITIN program. The IRS does not investigate status, but expects that much of the money generated under the ITIN program is taxes paid by illegal immigrants. Many experts also believe that the mismatch between SS and W2s is also the result of illegal immigrants paying taxes. Based on these assumptions, in 8 years (1996 to 2003), it appears that illegal immigrants may have paid more than $90 billion in taxes. (Info is pulled from a USA today article)

      Why would an illegal immigrant pay taxes? Sometimes it's required to get the job. Other times they hope that it will help if the government rolls out an amnesty program. Still others feel that it's their civic duty - they enjoy opportunity in the US and don't mind paying taxes back into the country.

      July 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  21. GenericMan

    Our nation's humanity is savage.

    July 11, 2012 at 4:58 am |
  22. abe

    Its government sponsored slavery any which way you cut it. I understand its voluntary for the inmates, but when you are sitting in a cell all day getting some fresh air is probably nice. Im sure the slaves that were being transported across the atlantic were pretty happy to be on dry land as well.

    July 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Marvin E Woody Sr

      The slaves being transported across the Atlantic were sleeping, living in "spoon" fashion. They were paid nothing. In almost all cases, the slaves of an African XYZ tribe were sold to the crazy white Dutch/English/etc buyers for baubles. But then there were many indentured WHITE slaves at Jamestown. The indigenous peoples of North America practiced slavery. That was then, This is now! These felons don't work for free!. They are paid. They voluntarily do it! Try reading!

      July 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
      • Marvin E Woody Sr

        Moderator...Just include me out. I cannot deal with so much sensitivities! Scrap my post... sorry to bother you folks,

        July 10, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  23. TrueGrissel

    Everyone screaming slave labor I'll bet not one clone here can say exactly how many or how much a picker has to pick plus this may include rent, utilities, medical access, food, transportation etc. ANYONE?

    July 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • viper1j

      I'll type it slow, so you understand..

      The "pickers" have a choice, the slaves do not..

      July 10, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  24. theb0yd

    "The hard part is finding the money to pay fair wages for the hands that pick her crop." Shoot, i'd go out and pick onions for $2.50 an hour. I don't exactly have a lot of options open at the moment and any kind of employment for any pay would be nice. It would be nice if people would get off their high horse and realize how much minimum wage limits hurts the unemployed.

    July 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      You're either lying, or your LYING.
      You have a computer and internet access, $2.50 an hour won't pay for dinner, much less rent AND dinner.
      Stop trying to pretend what few laws of decency we have are unimportant.

      July 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  25. old teacher

    WOW.... government sanctioned slavery! Don't pay a living wage to nationals, don't want to pay a living wage for pennies on the dollar for prisoners who have few options......gotta love this country!

    July 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Marvin E Woody Sr

      Slavery? Slavery? The farmer pays for the help. The FELONS get free food, room to sleep and health care. They have a library, cable TV and you think that I, (The tax payer) should give them a free ride? From 1955 until now I supported myself. These felons do not! What is wrong with working them, paying them and using the proceeds to offset their care and maintenance? I would work them like a rented mule for .50 cents an hour!

      July 10, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
      • viper1j

        And would you make them call you "Massa"?

        July 10, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
        • Marvin E Woody Sr

          You really have no legitimate thoughts to offer. Still, I'll jump in; Do you feel that felonious, antisocial people are "owed" food, medical, entertainment, and a place to sleep safely? I don't!, I feel one must work for his/her or?

          July 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
      • Cuervo Jones


        July 11, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  26. animalsci2011

    Simple fix. If you ain't making any money stop growing that crop and move onto something else. Or if you can't find a way to make money get out of farming. There is nothing wrong with using the inmates for work. They want to be out of jail and you need labor its a win win and most aren't in there for crimes that bad anyways(ie. didn't or couldn't pay child support, or public drunkedness). This farmer needs to learn that she is in a grown up world and needs to adapt. And for some reason everybody is on the all natural and organic bandwagon. I refuse to buy anything that says these two words simply because I am educated enough to know facts about modern production farming systems. Not so much on the plant side but animals but still.

    And if you made it to the end of this post good for you cause I couldn't make it through most of the posts on here. Crazy how many english majors we have in this world.

    July 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • viper1j

      And Abraham Lincoln says "Didn't I put a stop to this a few years ago?"

      July 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
      • animalsci2011

        Don't quite understand what you are talking about here bud. Is it that everybody on here is calling the inmate working program government slavery? Thats just idiotic. Its not the inmates are in jail they want to see the outside and most want something to do. I know many that do this, they all say its better than sitting in a cell all day long. Sure they don't make money but heck they are in jail not on a real job and they don't have to pay for being in jail if they sign a paper saying they can't afford to pay for the time they were in there.

        July 10, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
      • GJ

        Suggest you look up the term slavery, then comment about it. This is not slavery; this is a person performing work and getting paid for it.

        July 12, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  27. Marvin E Woody Sr

    People convicted of felony's, I'm not talking about pot smokers, but thieves, robbers and looters, should work to offset their keep! Why do I, the taxpayer have to pay for their upkeep? They get fed, medical care and cable TV, no charge to them. I say work them at least six hours a day, Farmers can pay them minimum wage. Use their earnings to pay a part of their fare.

    July 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • viper1j

      Slavery..slavery's good M'Kay?

      Can I rent your daughter this weekend?

      July 10, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
      • KA

        OMG PEOPLE!!! IT ISN'T FREAKING SLAVERY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They GET PAID to do this work, they learn a skill, they have something that says they are capable of working once they get released from prison. If I were in prison & was offered this opportunity you bet your underwear I would jump at it. These people are NOT slaves. Did the slaves have an opportunity to learn, did they have access to the regular things that their owners had, did they get paid for their work, was their work voluntary???? No, no & no. These inmates are asked if they want to work, the get paid minimum wage & they don't have to if they don't want to. This is the problem with people now a days, nobody wants to work, God forbid anyone have to work for the stuff they get, God forbid these PRISONERS who HAVE NOT CONTRIBUTED to society have to ACTUALLY work!!! That's why this world is going to hell in a handbasket.

        July 11, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Dean

      Society pays for their upkeep because society made the rules, paid the police to enforce the rules, and they broke the rules and were caught. A society bears the burden of its rules, and there is a price to pay to keep the rule-breakers off the streets. We as Americans have lost sight of the fact that we are a SOCIETY, A COMMUNITY, NOT SIMPLY A COLLECTION OF INDIVIDUALS!!!! We have common interests that ALL must pay for because ALL benefit.

      July 11, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  28. Mir

    Vidalia onions have always been considered somewhat of a delicacy in my part of the country, so prices should be higher. Maybe I am young and naive, but why don't the farmers just hire the unemployed at minimum wage and sell the onions for enough of a profit. If all the farmers did it, and the foodies wanted there delicious onions, the onions would be bought regardless of price (truffles anyone?). So long as all the farmers hired workers at minimum wage it should be okay. I realize I'm an idealist, but I also detasseled corn at 14 years old and know how crappy field work can be on a hot day. If you want the money, you'll do it.

    July 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Rosemary

      That's the whole problem. People don't have to work. They get welfare, subsidized housing, free medical care, food stamps, free school, etc etc. Why in the world would they want to go out in a field and pick onions?

      July 11, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  29. Shelly

    Crazy how our taxes are paying chain gangs to do the work.

    July 10, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  30. WHAT?

    Oh... and I've paid taxes the entire time... I'm on a high horse for a good reason – I'm not a freeloader. Ignorance is contagious – get a flu shot, dummy.

    July 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  31. Dude

    Amendment 13 – Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    ...except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted...

    No issue here. Move along. There is plenty of work for prisoners to do.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  32. GetReal

    I don't like the idea of inmates picking my produce. I can imagine them spitting, peeing, and pooping on the ground as they work. They don't take pride in work they're forced to do. Let them make license plates and furniture, but I don't want them touching my food. And pay regular Americans real wages to do the job.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • tom

      And its another stupid conservative idea that sounds real satisfying to say but is absurd to put in practice. Do they hate "illegals" so much that they prefer violent felons in their neighborhoods picking vegetables instead? This would cost us all more to truck the prisoners to the fields, guard them securely and then truck them back to a secure location. The fields could be a long drive away from the prison. The only place this actually works is in Angola prison, LA. ... because the fields are INSIDE the prison fences.

      Think people, before offering stupid ideas.

      July 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

        I agree, think before offering stupid ideas. THIS idea has been tried and proven cost efficient and even an enrichment for inmates. So before you continue, take your own advice.

        July 11, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Cuervo Jones

      wth? you dont wash your food before you cook it? eww

      July 11, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • GJ

      You have obviously never worked on a farm - it is hard work. If you need a job go to any of the farms out there I am sure they will hire you as a farm hand, if they can afford it. Be prepared you will start at the bottom minimum wage. Are you prepared to stoop all day picking onions (in this case), cutting weeds out of beans, etc. I did it when I was in high school to earn college money. It is not a fun way to earn a living.

      July 12, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  33. Dean

    Sounds like a good idea.
    And after the unemployed pass their drug tests and before they collect their weekly check, they can pick them too.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • WHAT?

      I've been unemployed and never collected a handout – so, why would I be expected to pass a drug test unless it was as a new hire for a company? Please don't put welfare trash in the same category as someone laid off from a job after twelve years.

      July 10, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
      • annie

        Hate to tell you buddy, but welfare from the state is welfare from the state. Get off your high chair and get a job before you start trashing others.

        July 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
        • WHAT?

          I lived on a severance package from my former employer AND NOT ONE DAY OF UNEMPLOYMENT.

          July 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • tom

      Dean, you are an A $$. Unemployed people receiving benefits were working at one time and paying into the system. How dare you suggest that unemployed people are freeloaders. Have you even spent 10 minutes doing some homework before opening your big mouth?

      July 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  34. Taxed

    Bring back the work camps on all levels – including debtor's prisons – if you could not pay your bills a hundred years ago, you went to jail and then to a work camp until you PAID YOUR DEBT TO SOCIETY. It sure would make people think twice about what true responsibility is.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Dean


      July 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
      • tom

        Hey why stop there. Let's just hang from the highest tree, anyone who "Dean" thinks is doing something wrong. Never mind if Dean is correct or not. Bow down to the King who knows it all.

        July 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

        I vote tom to be the first hung.

        July 11, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • annie

      Yes, taking parents away from their kids is a great idea.

      July 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

        Agreed, send the kids with them.

        July 11, 2012 at 8:04 am |
        • southboca

          Yes, just like they did back in the good old days. ... When the kids were sold by the workhouses to factories, put in leg irons, beaten with sticks and straps, and occasionally had to endure such poor work conditions that they grew up to be crippled, got booted out and got to start their next career as street beggar. When fires started in factories, the workers typically died. The doors were locked to keep the child labor from running away.

          July 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  35. Mark

    Using slave labor undercuts the free market. Without a cheap source of exploitable labor (immigrant labor), there is no choice but to increase wages (which would of course make food more expensive), unless of course another source of cheap exploitable labor exists. Meanwhile unemployment continues above 8%.

    July 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • tom

      Conservatives want their cake but eat it too! They say that all regulations on businesses are bad. That business should be left alone. Then at the same time, they want to tell businesses who they can hire if that person happens to be latin and "illegal". Hypocrites!

      This whole idea of hating them coz they are "illegal" is absurd. Many things are illegal. Speeding, running a red light, cheating on your taxes and putting down that you gave money to the church when you did not, stealing a pencil from your company – all those things are "illegal" activities. Why is crossing the border without a paper so much more horrible to cause so much vitrol than the other illegal activities I named. I just don't get it.

      July 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Robert

      Did you read the story? The onions are selling for 60c a pound. Farmers do not set the prices. They take whatever the market offers. If their labor cost goes up, they take it on the chin and go broke. They cannot pass on the increased cost. That is the problem. The anti immigrant fanatics did not think of any of this when they voted to expel farm laborers from the country.

      July 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  36. c s

    Repeal the 14th Amendment. Open re-education camps for all convicted felons. Arbeit macht frei. Problem resolved.

    Or maybe just let the free market set wages at a high enough level to attract workers. That is if you really beleive in the free market. Of course the farmers want the lowest wage possible and that means "wink" hiring illegal workers. The farmers do this by hiring a contractor to supply the labor. Since the workers are hired by the contractor and not the farmer, the farmer can say that he did not hire illegal workers.

    I am sure that many farmers want to obey the law but they are undercut by the ones that want the cheapest labor (a variation of Grisham's law). The truth is that farm labor is hard and the pay is low because almost of the power is with the farmer. The farmers face pressure from their buyers to keep prices low. If someone can tell me how the free market will resolve this problem, please tell me. The current system is capitalism with almost no restraints.

    July 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  37. ltneid

    Last year, Georgia farmers lost a couple billion dollars because a stringent immigration law kept illegals away. Now they're resorting to chain gangs to reap the harvest.
    You reap what you sow.

    July 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • levi

      Yes, and I bet the inmates are just crying over this!

      July 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      If you rely on illegal labor, you have no business being in business.

      July 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  38. B-Love

    Absolutely put them to work!!! Prison is not supposed to be a counryclub. Put them to work harvesting crops, building roads, digging ditches, any project that will help the public infrastructure! If they try to run away, shoot them and save us the money of having to house them for breaking the law!

    July 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      You have my vote.

      July 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  39. Jim

    Nothing like "southern values" aka "slave labor"

    July 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      Actually, work programs are voluntary.


      July 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
      • Jim

        lol yeah, the choice is either to sit and stew in one of the torture chambers we call prisons or go out and do hard labor. That sure doesn't sound like slavery!

        inbred morally bankrupt clown

        July 11, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  40. Well

    they are prisoners...why shoudl we pay for them to sit around all day...we could have kids if we wanted that.

    July 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  41. Pat

    Prisons are not slave camps put the unemployed to work not force prisoners to do so

    July 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • davy

      the prisoners need to pay for the room and board. Honest work never killed anybody

      July 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
      • Jim

        Forced labor for corporate profit is not "Honest" labor.

        July 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
        • GJ

          How is this forced work?

          July 12, 2012 at 8:58 am |

    Jacktaraz::: The word "Entitlement literally means a "Right" as in the individual has a right (entitlement) to receive money from the Social Security fund he or she paid into while working. It's equivalent to people bragging about being "Conservatives" when they are to dimwitted to open a dictionary and see the actual definition of the word conservative, if they beleive its a complimentary term then they have some issues that they need to work out.

    For the rediculous Anti-Union rants on here: If you are anti-union then you are pro-slavery; I can't put it in any simpler terms. The idea that the workers producing the actual product are obligated to live in poverty is the stupidest concept that has come down the pike in my lifetime. History always repeats itself and when the masses reach the tipping point the streets will run with the blood of the oppressers, the 1%'s or whatever rediculous moniker the politicians want to use. That's not rocket science that's revolution, and that's how they start. They begin with oppression on a large scale and when the tipping point occurs they end with death on both sides. Somehow many of us allowed the dumbest of our species to rise to positions of power and influence and almost all of us are paying the price. There are millions of Americans who consider themselves very patriotic who are ready to take up arms, and they come from all sides of the spectrum meaning GOP, DEMs, Tea Partyists, etc. The 1st American revolution was over paying taxes and not being represented does that sound like a completely foriegn concept??

    And for those of you thinking that the issue here is a farmer unwilling to pay a fair wage its universally about greed, the middleman is always trying to get more of the share than the producer (Farmer/worker) As one farmer on here mentioned (in a diffderent way) when you remove the greed factor and work together everyone prospers not just the person who wants everybodys share. I live in a world populated by intelligent people and people who are such imbeciles it amazes me they dont drown when they look up while its raining.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • dw

      The word is spelled ridiculous, Not rediculous. You should probably not write that people are imbeciles if you cannot spell a simple word correctly.

      July 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  43. Ranger14

    So now we are getting the root of the immigration problem: These illegals are flooding across the border and stealing jobs from our prisoners. Americans should be outraged!!!!

    July 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  44. Myt1

    Besides politics it is everyone who goes to the store to buy these and will not pay what it actually costs. The farmers don't even pay minimum wage. When they did to the convicts they were subsidized for their "lost income". I grew up on a farm and even in the 70's got paid only 1 dollar per wagon load of hay I unloaded. I could unload 8 wagons per hour which was good wages. These farmers are not paying enough either per hour or per 100 pounds harvested.

    July 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  45. Shannon

    I admit I only read the article and none of your comments. Why don't they make this a part-time, summer job, off the books, for teenagers – just like babysitting or mowing lawns? My cousins used to pick corn in the summertime in Illinois back in the 1970's. Let tweens & teenagers work and learn about responsibility and the fun of earning one's own money. We don't need immigrants or illegals to do this – let the kids of America get to work! Okay, a little simplistic, but I do wish there were a simple solution that would get the crops out of the ground and teach American kids what hard work is.

    July 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • mike k.

      Yes, I remember friends and cousins picking tobacco in Maryland (as I was washing dishes), but there's no way kids today could do it. I know, every generation says that, but no teen I've seen would be able to put their phone down long enough to get anything accomplished. Not exaggerating.

      July 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
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