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)
  1. Charlie

    Funny, I am reading a lot Liberals complain about slave labor, and a lot of conservatives saying how good it is to give prisoners a job and help them be productive. But why am I not hearing from the conservatives any comments about more TAXPAYER funds going to corporate welfare? Paragraph 12, starting with the 42 year old Georgia native also mentions the prisoner to work program has the farmers being subsidized for the cost (probably part of the cost) of using prison labor. Shawshank redemption anyone? SO not only do the taxpayers pay to lockup the prisoners, now we also pay to have them work at a corporate owned farm.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
    • Lila

      They get a break for hiring illegals too, no taxes, etc...Businesses seem to ALWAYS come out on top and the taxpayers pay for it.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Reply
      • ElmerGantry

        Yep, it is called socializing the risk and privatizing the profit. What a deal.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Reply
  2. There. Are. No. Gods!

    Oh you have to love private institutions. Capitalism isn't just left to the businesses, it can also be applied to human slave labor in the penal system! God bless criminals for making the ultimate sacrifice!

    July 9, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  3. blessedgeek

    If this practice continues as a success, this will prompt the state of GA (and especially TX too), to increase the rate of convictions on relatively small infractions. Yes racially profile certain people whom they would rather see picking crops at cheap rates.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
    • Mandor

      Avoidable if they have to pay prisoners the same wage as anyone else. Which... they would probably choke on and refuse to have as a law... but it remove much of the incentive to just throw people in the slammer purely for this.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
    • Lila

      I understand your concern, but they also face a jury of their peers. Our incarceration rate is so high in this country, what are we doing wrong in this country raising our kids? They obviously don't think the laws apply to them, they keep breaking them. They are too good to pick crops but they can rob homes, steal cars and grow pot instead of taking pride in putting in an honest days work. It's hard to see inmates as victims but we as a society are doing something seriously wrong. There are too many of them.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
    • Good Idea!

      I think it takes a real cynic to believe that they would purposely incarcerate folks just for cheap farm labor. And if they are going to, then they can start with illegal immigrants – how about that?! But seriously, this is a long time coming – we spend all this money jailing folks, when instead of "paying a debt to society" we are paying to give them 3 squares and shelter. I say put em to work!

      July 9, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  4. Dennis

    Slave Labor is making a come back.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  5. Mandor

    I'm not thrilled at the idea of prisoners essentially being one step away from slave labor. On the other hand, I'm not thrilled with the idea of prisoners watching cable TV and working out all day long. Harvesting crops would at least be USEFUL.

    Personally, I would have no problem paying 3-5 times more for produce if it means a legal resident can get a job doing this work at a fair wage. Same way some people will pay more for "Fair Trade" coffee, I would pay more for "Fair Trade" produce. I acknowledge that not everyone would and even some who would just wont' have the money... but farmers, label it as a product that is harvested by legal residents for a fair wage, and you just might see some sales even if it's more expensive than your competition. There are those of us who will vote will our wallet.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  6. greeksol

    This could actually be very helpful. I'd imagine after being in prison for awhile you come out and it isn't easy to get a job. If you have no options you're more likely to resort to crime again. However, if we have the prisoners doing work that gives them some experience at least and if the money goes back to the prison system it will be less of a burden on taxpayers.

    I'm not saying it is a perfect system but it might just beat having them sit around in a cell doing nothing. While we're at it let's make it mandatory for everyone in prison to also take some general classes so that when they get out their communication skills are solid. It's of no use to anyone if they come out without any hope for improvement.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Reply
    • Annie Miami

      I don't have time now to read thru all comments so perhaps the point has already been made: problem is that tending to growing crops – weeding, etc. – and hand picking at harvest time may be hard physical labor but it's all skilled work. Migrants who've made this job their life's work know what they're doing or if they happen to be new at it they're working within a community of skilled workers who can show them the ropes and guide them. Growers don't have the burden of teaching newbies. This country used to be chock full of family farms. Labor needs were met locally – including letting children out of school to help – and we also had home grown migrants who worked regions or followed specific types of crops. When agri business started buying up family farms, the existing system broke down and agri business started bringing in cheaper foreign labor in great numbers. A great book on the subject is "With These Hands" by Daniel Rothenberg who conducted extensive interviews with everyone involved including growers, contractors, and workers. It's nothing new at all that in hard times people start screaming about migrant workers taking over jobs. I marvel at this considering I read over and over that the greatest number of illegal workers by far are people from all over the world who overstay their visas and work in offices, in construction, and in other non-farm jobs. A well defined well organized guest worker program would seem to be a must for agriculture at least for the foreseeable future. And cutting down on illegals who do take jobs that U.S. citizens are well prepared to handle should focus on locating and deporting people who overstay their visas. My understanding is that Pres. Obama is doing just that as part of targeted approaches to controlling illegal labor. We should support that effort. Illegal immigration is a multi-faceted problem. We need to face that reality squarely to deal with it effectively. Meanwhile, we should appreciate the invaluable contributions migrant workers make to our health and well being. Grains, corn and some other crops can be tended and harvested by machines. Fruits and vegetables need skilled hand work.

      July 10, 2012 at 12:04 am | Reply
  7. Lila

    Really this is where we are going with this? Our country can't feed itself so we must have open borders or use inmates. Please, if that is true we have no business being a country. That is disgusting. I buy all organic produce so I'm used to the expensive prices. The majority of people who can't afford it buy food imported from other countries. No amount of slave labor can compete with those prices. We would have to not only allow slaves to go around labor laws but lower our environmental standards. That will never happen.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  8. ciaopaparazzi

    Watch a country destroy itself by deporting those who work the hardest. Too bad we can't deport the scumbags who passed the law instead.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Reply
  9. Scott from NH

    In Malaysia they deported all the illegal immigrants because "they might be terrorists" "they are causing all the crime" "they are criminals, why can't they just come legally?" "they are taking our jobs" After they threw them out every factory nearly shut down. Malaysia ended up begging them to come back.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Reply
  10. whybs

    anti-immigrant folks are the whiners that can't afford higher food prices! Let them have it.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  11. Politically Correct

    Here is your chance white people, you complain about immigrants taking your jobs. Now go pick your own fruits and vegetables. Oh wait....you can't you're all 400 pounds and on the verge of diabetes.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  12. MICKWOOF

    NO! NO! NO! No prisoners! That is slave trade! Make every legislator & voter that backed anti-immigration laws to get out and work in the fields. Every white stuffed shirt and racist peckerwood should be doing those jobs as they are exactly the ones who said immigrants were taking American jobs. There are American jobs in fields, go do them. The prisoners are paying their debts in jail. Make the White Hate Machine pay their debts in the fields.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • Scott from NH

      well said !!

      July 9, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  13. JRH

    Yep, let's deport all of 'em. Then watch the right wingers whinge and moan about how food prices have skyrocketed (which will, of course be Obama's fault).

    July 9, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  14. Sue Johnson

    I totally disagree with the concept of paying prisoners low wages to harvest any crops. Untill the prisoners are paid the
    wage any other worker would have received, I will boycott all crops farmed with prison labor. Unemployed people
    cannot get the work because the farmers pay much less to prison labor, so prison labor is preferred.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      How dare we treat criminals like criminals? You know what, I am totally with you and, in fact, until I get free room and board I am going to boycott my landlord. Until I get my meals paid for I am going to boycott the grocery store. Until I get free cable tv I am going to boycott my cable company.

      Uh, which means I would be homeless and starving. Wow, its a shame not everyone gets a free ride like inmates. Seriously, how could Anyhoo think we actually make them work without being paid at least $8/hr?

      July 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Reply
      • Mo Ron

        Yeah, and I see a nation already with the highest per-capita population of offenders and ex-offenders, criminalizing even more – if big food gets the notion that they can make more money on the backs of cons. Watch, it'll happen.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • miniductum

      Why should prisoners be paid anything at all for working in the fields? They have free housing, meals, unlimited healthcare, libraries, etc. It won't hurt them to do something productive. We should also reduce unemployment benefits and stop paying people to stay at home and watch TV; most are qualified to work on a farm and earn at least minimum wage.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Reply
      • Fozzyspeak

        Trololoolol

        July 9, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
      • Charlie

        and while were at it, have the prisoners work for free to the highest donor for that senator, congressman, governor. whichever.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Reply
    • Becky C

      Sue do you have any idea what it costs to house and feed those prisoners? They are a big drain on the economy. If there are some prisoners that would be eligible and able to work these job by heck put them to work! I think it would be good for their moral to be closer to society and being out in the fresh air and doing something useful. I think my friends husband makes about 66 cents an hour in prison and 12 hours a day. I think those prisons are getting a good deal and it fills a great need for farmers.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Reply
      • Fozzyspeak

        It is slavery. If there is a financial incentive to put people in prison then fairness goes out the window. You are being short sighted like the people who ran off the immigrant workers.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  15. juice

    It's funny how everyone were screaming about illegal workers, until they realized that they have to pick fresh produce under the sweltering heat.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      Exactly. Uber conservatives love to blow smoke to hide their true colors, whatever color bigotry might be. What jobs are these illegal immigrants doing that 99% of Americans would be caught dead doing? ANY job some white bread American is going to apply for is one that could not hire illegals. Yeah, I am sure Target and McDonald's are really going to break the law and hire an illegal immigrant.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • Kevin H

      There is nothing random about these things. Folks definitely know what's going on here. This is bad for business – the illegal people we employed often had miserable lives but at least they made some kind of wage. Now we're resorting to prisoners – and when the first prisoners escape or whatever – the violent prisoners then what? What happens when ACLU folks file on the states for basically instituting slave labor practices. This is just bad policy. We need to find paths to legal immigration.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  16. juice

    Hire more Americans and pay fair wages. It's ok to allow price of the produce to go up. I thought that's what every anti-immigrant wanted.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • Scott from NH

      If you pay more in labor the cost of the product is not going to go up at all, instead we will just stop growing them and they will come from Mexico.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Reply
      • Todd in DC

        Well the way around that is for the government to set the prices for the crops and... oh wait, that's socialism, BUt it's cool, Newt already is pro socialism. ANyone remember when he promised to set gas prices at $2.50 a gallon?

        July 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  17. Mike

    Wait, hold on. You mean to tell me that getting rid of the immigrants not only doesn't free up more jobs for American citizens but creates one Hell of a mess since immigrants do jobs noone else will and without them it creates unforseen problems???

    Who could have guessed? It's amazing when conservative bigots pass laws they ALWAYS end up biting them in the a s s.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Reply
  18. Wastrel

    Anything to keep from paying real workers a living wage.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      Did you even bother to read the article? These farmers aren't making enough money to pay workers the minimum wage.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Reply
      • Walter

        Libs don't read, they just regurgitate the same talking points depending on the topic.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Reply
        • Todd in DC

          No Walter. You want to deport immigrants? Fine. But if you expect to pay Walmart prices, you better accept the fact that you are paying for slave labor.

          July 9, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  19. Patiat

    Oh, no, illegals are just taking jobs away from all the desperate Americans who are just lining up, hat in hand, for all those farm jobs out there.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  20. James

    Put them all to work in the fields. But make sure they have Total Recal type collars on them. If they run away it blows their heads off. Plenty of cheap labor for the fields.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Reply
    • Andrew

      Dude...come on. That's ridiculous.

      You're talking about Running Man. Not Total Recal, or "Total Recall" as we English speakers spell it.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
      • AllEyesOnMe

        Too funny I just spit on my screen...really that's where you went with it! LMAO

        July 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  21. onestarman

    CHAIN GANGS – Picking Cotton for THE MAN
    I heard screamin' and bullwhips cracking How long? How long? Southern MAN better keep your head Don't forget what your good book said Southern change gonna come at last
    Now your crosses are burning fast Southern man

    July 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  22. Guy Minnesota

    This is why we have 5% of the worlds population and about 80% of the worlds prisoners. It's called the industrial prison complex. You send a guy to jail for 5 years for a bag of marijuana and get 5 years of cheap or free labor out of him. We arrest 750,000 people in the United States for marijuana and it costs us $41 billion. If anyone thinks this work farm helps anyone but a few people get rich they are seriously out of touch with is really going on. If didn't cost taxpayers money and make money for a few wealthy people it wouldn't exist. Legalize marijuana and let the farmers pay what the employment market demands instead of using marijuana slavery to get rich. And we worry about what other countries do with their criminal justice system and slave labor. We have the one of the biggest problems in the world right here and we're doing anything about it. The private prisons push for longer sentences for drug crimes so they can make more money in their human warehouses. What a joke.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Reply
  23. CheJe

    Hmmm...wonder why all the millions without jobs aren't offering to pick onions? Answer: it's easier to just collect that check from the "gubmint." That's why.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply
    • Guy Minnesota

      Typical tea party response completely lacking of facts. "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." It's because they can get labor cheaper than minimum wage. This actually costs taxpayers more money. If you understood that private prisons get money from both taxpayers and the people their prisoners work for you would be able to offer a valid opinion in this discussion. You would see that the private prisons push for longer sentences so they can keep their legal slave labor force at a cost not only to the prisoner but to the American tax payer. You do pay taxes right?? Do you like giving wealthy people that own private prisons your tax dollars so they can get more wealthy using some guy for five years that got caught with a dime bag of marijuana? Probably you do like it. Sarah Palin told you to like so you'll just like it without having any information or an original thought that you actually produced without influence. That's generally what the tea party people do. Follow the words of the head of the party like Popeye following Alice The Goon.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Reply
      • GJ

        Did you read the article - they pay minimum wages to the probationers.

        July 12, 2012 at 9:51 am | Reply
  24. Greg

    If I ever go to prison, I sure as hell won't work for them. The guards will have to carry me everywhere because I'm more determined than any guard will ever be.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • robert yocum

      its treible to think that there are so many dead beat lazy Black and White people who think they are to good to do a real days work for a check. at least mexicans are willing to do just about any thing. to get a check.. not like the B trash dealing drugs and Robbing and killing to get money. imagine that

      July 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
    • Todd in DC

      Then you are going to love solitary confinement.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
  25. tingle007

    The only way to get a job these days is to be an inmate. I'd rather they make a little more money and be able to take this job when they get out at a real wage but it's better than nothing and it's better than illegals.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Reply
    • Andrew

      It's not better than illegals. Don't forget that the illegals that you're talking about are the hard working, tax paying type. Terrorists don't usually come over here and pick crops.

      It's also proving that this is a great way to run an economic system if you're one of the elite. Imprison the masses and force them into slave labor.

      Employing illegals doesn't prove that we should all be put into prisons to work for free....so I support that over this solution.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Reply
  26. Scott

    If you receive unemployment or welfare payments and are able bodied, you should be put to work. It really is that simple. Pick crops, mow the grass at a park or clean up the streets. No free riders

    July 9, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Reply
    • adam

      Sounds a lot like FDR's work programs during the Depression... you socialist!

      July 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Reply
      • Todd in DC

        Exactly. No way the tea tards will go for that, no matter how reasonable it sounds.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • Jules

      yeah, and you can bring your three year old with you and tie his leg to a stake in the field since you can't possibly afford childcare on minimum wage because no one will take less than $10/hr to watch him in this country.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Reply
  27. Ronnie

    Well, the return of the chain gang. Boss Hog and the those good old southern boys farming out prison labor so they can line their pockets. Black men better find a job quick here comes the old vagrancy laws the old sheriff will be hitching you on to a chain gang.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  28. Eukannt Avmai Adey

    Good to see slavery is alive and well in America, where it was supposed to have been stamped out all those years ago.

    You see, what happened was we had Indians working, but the diseases that were brought from Europe wiped them out, to a large extent, so their labor was replaced by blacks imported from Africa. When slave-owners were told they couldn't own slaves anymore, and the slaves were "freed", they suddenly had no education, AND no job... so they either had to take jobs for a pittance, or starve. Not wanting to have to pay people they used to own, Americans turned to Mexican peasants (immigrants/migrant workers) for a source of cheap labor. As Mexicans took over parts of the US, and injected themselves into American politics, and started demanding rights, America turns to the NEXT source of involuntary labor, they can exploit cheaply.

    That's prisoners. As it happens, the majority of prisoners are... you guessed it, Indians, Mexicans, and Blacks.

    Nothing's new under the sun, friends. Slavery has metamorphosed, and evolved... it never really went away.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Reply
    • mike

      Actually their working for their room and board that the citizens of the state they are in provide. Toss in the color tv programs and the free continued education all payed for by the tax payers of the state. Don't see any slaves there.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Reply
      • TeeJay

        You are correct Mike. It's (typically) costs approximately $40,000 per year to house an inmate... and, when they're released, they have nothing – no money, no job, no place to go. This program helps them resolve the first two of those issues, and also helps them pass time while serving their time.

        July 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
      • Patiat

        Awesome. And the money that the state pays to the privatized prison- does that go back to taxpayers because the inmates are paying their own room and board in jail? Of course not.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Reply
        • Andrew

          Thank you Patiat!

          It's always the same issue with conservatives/people who think conservatively. They are sooooo focused on "what they're losing" that they don't even consider what's actually happening, who's being hurt by it, who's profiting, what they'll do with their profits, how this could affect their children and morph into something else....

          "I'm a taxpayer and I hate paying taxes for prisoners!....and that's as far as I'm going to think it through!"

          July 9, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
      • Charlie

        No, they are not working for their room and board. The taxpayers are still paying it. now the taxpayer is also funding the farmers costs sooooo a corporate bailout to the good old boys club funded by taxpayers.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • TeeJay

      You are proof that stupid is as stupid does, and apparently a product of the liberal madrasas (public school system). I hope you'll seek help for your neurosis.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Reply
      • Mike

        You do realize the fact is liberals tend to be better educated than conservatives, right? Tell you what, go to a colllege campus and carry a sign that says all illegal immigrants should be sent packing, gays are an abomination and Obama is a Muslim who wasn't born in America....

        July 9, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
      • Andrew

        Good point TeeJay.

        Strong communication (speaking clearly) always requires (needs every time) an explanation in parentheses right behind it (a subsequent translation appearing between two curved vertical lines).

        Your assumptions....pardon me, your facts, are all accurate. Right down to your new spelling of "madrasah."

        Good job! (Satisfactory Work!)

        July 9, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  29. CentaurLove

    wait a minute... isn't unemployment around 10 percent? Why hire inmates when 1/10 of our population is out of work?
    Oh, I know... because that 10% would rather not work and take money from the government than to work hard labor.
    I have a nice office job now... but when I was out of work, I picked up a shovel and a hammer and did hard labor. Jobs are available, its just that people are too lazy to take them.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Reply
    • mike

      Actually they probably get to have the inmates at below minimum wage.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Reply
    • mike

      I sure you were doing that hard labor with all the other that lost their jobs and have fought back from the brink. I have been lucky and my job hasn't gone any where. But it is funny to see all these people saying they started doing construction.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
    • Bill Hannegan

      The 10% unemployed would love to have farm jobs. The problem is that the farm owners are looking for slave labor – they want to pay minimum wage with no benefits, no retirement, for working in the hot sun all day. What happens when you throw out your back? The $80 you made working 9 hours probably isn't going to cover surgery...

      July 9, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Reply
    • dzerres

      Did you read the article. The farmers pay minimum wage or less and the state kicks in some money. Another words: subsidy. I'm sure you could get citizens to pick if you pay enough to cover the cost of transportion, clothes, laundry, etc. If it doesn't cover the cost of showing up NOONE is going to you up, period. But you would rather cut your nose off and have the harvest rot in the field. Good luck with that. I hope the peaches rot in Georgia and the oranges fall off the trees in Arizona. Prison labor: that sounds like communist China to me.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Reply
    • TeeJay

      Reread the article. The answer is right there for you.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Reply
      • Andrew

        It's right there for you TeeJay!!!!!!!! It's says that they're subsidized by the state – your tax dollars pay prisoner wages!

        "The farmers get a subsidy from the government to cover part of the cost." (of paying them minimum wage...if that's not absolutely clear to you).

        How is your Tea Party brain ok with this??? You're out here accusing people not reading the article and of liberal bias and all this other stuff. YOU NEED TO RE-READ THE ARTICLE.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply
        • Fozzyspeak

          He is right Tee Jay. It says that it is subsidized by the state.

          July 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  30. jdoe

    No big deal. They use prison labor in communist China and North Korea too

    July 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  31. frank thomas

    I live in the greaat central valley of California, we grow a lot of food crops, right now stone fruit is rippining in our current 102 degrees, yes we have a lot of illegals who get out there and pick the ripe fruit shipped all over the world/Locals out of work will not do the back breaking work.CALIFORNIA IS NOT LIKE ARIZONA OR GEORGIA , we in California welcome the workers and know they will bring in the crops, Remember that when you bite into that lucious peach or other fruit from California

    July 9, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  32. Mary

    What did we expect? It's not like we didn't forsee the problems with our food supplies & farming a huge crack down would bring. As we crack down more on immigration, we'll start seeing more & more issues arise that the public tried to ignore beforehand. It will affect our food supply & the price of our food first & foremost. It's why the gov't at the federal level has not truly tried to stop illegal immigration all at once. They are aware of the national crisises it will start. If only state & local governments would stop trying to pander to the public hysteria and try to educate the public instead.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • mike

      Actually we'll have to just start paying a decent wage to farm workers and increased prices for produce. Won't be a food shortage unless we refuse to pay up for a days work..

      July 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  33. ken

    why don't they just find all of those hard working unemployed americans

    July 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Reply
    • mike

      Lot cheaper to get the inmates now that the illegals and migrant workers are gone.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  34. revolting peasant

    How about we indenture people who cannot pay their medical bills because they don't have proper insurance? Instead of them getting away with never paying or declaring bankruptcy, they can pick onions.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Reply
    • jdoe

      Unless they're dead from the lack of treatments.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  35. martiniano

    What I've always said: the low-brow race haters will change their minds when they have to pay more for their food. Notice that good ol' white 'mericans aren't showing up in the fields? And they won't. Like the Nazi's before them they just needed someone to blame for their lack of education and work ethic.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  36. History Repeats

    It was only a matter of time before slavery was brought back to America and the south. This was the intent all along. Southern states to replace migrant workers with prisoner labor. It's been going on for quite sometime in Macon Ga and it's chicken processing plants. I don't mind putting prisoners to work as long as they receive incentives such as fair wages and reduced sentencings for their labor. But this I fear will take America back to the 1940s, '50s and '60s where American citizens, mainly blacks and poor whites, were routinely picked up and arrested on fabricated charges then thrown into jails and prisons to toil away at farm labor.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  37. Leeland007

    Figures, square off on the race issue. Did I mention one damn word about race? Get off the pity pot and back on task. The question is, make prisoners work, or not. Ok, make it fair, the non-working prisoner can have his 3 squares a day and a bed to sleep in, and he can serve his full sentence, not a problem there. The prisoner that chooses to work gets rewarded. Will he make a living wage? Hell no, and he shouldn’t. We, the actual tax payer are footing the bill for his crimes, not only in what he steals or who he kills, or any other crime; we pay the guards all the way to his electricity bill. He should be paid, yes, if he makes over and above what it costs him to be in the pen, sure. Just so you heard me right, I did not mention race, I did not mention religion, and I did not discriminate by age or in any other way. I said he and maybe I should have said they. Tough. Oh, to address the other issue you haters out there have, I am a product of the modern school system. Chang it, and so will I change. Enough said.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      The point was getting rid of the illegals was supposedly they were taking American jobs. But now these jobs are going to prisoners. So how did this law help Americans get more jobs?

      July 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Reply
    • Lady Esquire

      they did this b/c ppl were not stepping up and taking these jobs, and they still aren't

      July 9, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  38. 2012is1984

    So these business owners who use prison labor save money... at the taxpayers expense... while putting the average person who is not a criminal out of a job? What the hell is wrong with people?????!!!!!!!

    July 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Reply
    • Leeland007

      Not at the cost of the taxpayer, make him pay what he would have paid the ileagal labor force. And any american that wants those jobs can get them just by showing up. But we don't, so he has to have the labor somplace, and the prisoners want luxeries, time off, sounds good to me...

      July 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Reply
    • e

      You are missing the part where they cannot find other people to do the work. Farmers are BEGGING for employees, they pay $15 a hour, but noone shows up and the crops rot.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Reply
      • chrisw1964

        They're not offering anybody 15 dollars an hour to pick onions...they're paying the inmates minimum wage, part of which is subsidized by the state of Georgia. This may be a solution to a problem, but just barely...

        July 9, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Reply
      • Grant

        If you think that the farmers are paying out $15 hr in Georgia , I have NEWS......... No.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  39. Cambride Ray

    From a Washington Post thread:

    j3hess
    3:09 PM CDT
    If the issue was only economic and the discussion was rational, we would have had a fix back when president G.W. Bush proposed it.

    But the vitriol suggests this isn't an economic issue, it is a purity issue. It is about dark-skinned unclean lower-class people sullying our white middle-class society. (This is why Asians get to be white – the ones who make it here these days are middle/professional/business class.)

    This is NOT to say that everyone concerned about immigration is racist. But this is where a lot of the heat comes from. This is why immigrants are accused of committing disproportional amounts of crime. Since it is socially unacceptable to be outwardly racist, the springs of residual racism find another outlet.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  40. Faisal

    Reduce the wages of American citizens (Disclosure: I myself is an American)
    Anti-immigration policies and high wages/cool lifestyle cannot go together The formula is simple: Close the borders, reduce American wages to bring them to the international standards, lower the American standard of living and enjoy the life in Arizona/Georgia way.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Reply
    • Cambride Ray

      "Disclosure: I myself is an American"

      Really??

      July 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • Sajor

      Bring down the standard of living? To what, that of a 3rd world nation? We already are close to the bottom of the heap compared to the rest of the industrialized world.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply
    • momzna

      If you reduce the wages to the international level there will be no need to close the border. May be you'll have to close it USSR style.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  41. Frank!

    Golly! This slave labor idea is just what we need in the South! Rather than pay a living wage, let's just gather up a bunch of guys and make them work for peanuts.

    I wonder why no one thought of this slavery thing before now.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  42. JO

    This article is ridiculous. #1. No one s talking about immigration. We solved the problem of the harvest. Get out of jail in GA you get a huge lease on life to become a farmer. TADAH. The only thing the vidalia farmer is upset about is that the price of onions has gone down. Thats is again not an immigration problem. I can not even give a E for effort in this pile of crap article.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Reply
    • 2012is1984

      The lady is upset about low prices because she is being undercut by the competition who has immorally employed "slave" prison labor to create competitive prices. It is only a matter of time until your standard of living will be as low as the worst Chinese slave laborers. And the U.S. Government is all for it. Change you can see and believe.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
    • Cambride Ray

      @JO: "I can not even give a E for effort in this pile of crap article."

      I just read this in the Website Disclaimer:

      "Any reader who disagrees with the editorial lines of CNN or the Forum Policies, may go to Faux themselves:

      http://www. foxnews. com/

      July 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Reply
    • The_Mick

      Jo, it IS because of illegal immigrants that I bought 5 lbs of vidalia onions for $3.49 recently. You can't make money on them paying a decent wage. I would be willing to pay more for food if I knew that those workers were getting $12/hr – what the min wage is in France instead of our same-as-Greece min. wage. But they pay these workers by what they've picked and it often comes to $2/hr plus a shack to sleep in.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
      • momzna

        I would, I would...
        What prevents you from doing it already?
        Find an "honest" farmer in you area and start buying from him. Or better yet, open your own business and start paying wages according to your ideals.
        All that talk reminds me of an old joke:
        Two guys are talking:
        – Why don't you buy a new car?
        – There are 100 reasons. #1 – I don't have money.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Reply
        • The_Mick

          momzna – if you don't have money, get a job as a vadalia onion picker.

          July 9, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  43. Inciteful

    It's about time. The farmers should pay the prison system minimum wage for the labor of the prisoners to help offset the cost of their incarceration.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Reply
    • Hadenuffyet

      No problem , by the way , those cost just get dumped in your (the consumers) lap anyway. I have a bushel of peaches here , it'll cost you $50.00.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  44. ASimone

    The use of prisoners is an excellent idea. Get them moving and productive. Also another would be to combine weight loss (people looking to lose weight), nutrition (picking foods that one should be eating) and the exercise of having to pick the crops (bending, stretching, etc.) into a reality show or offer it as a "weekend warrior/alternative vacation" experience. I realize that there would be issues to work through like insurance, liability, payment, etc., but I bet if packaged correctly and find some willing farmers it would work. I would actually participate.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      Maybe you should travel abroad and hear what people from other countries talk about us. You may change your tune about turning cheap labor into a reality show. We're a laughing stock already

      July 9, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Reply
      • ASimone

        Jeff: I have traveled abroad and am well aware of how some countries view the USA. OK, so the reality TV thing may be a stretch; however I was simply came up with an alternate solution to getting something done that could assist these farmers that need labor. Americans that apply want more money and undocumented workers are out. The unfortunate thing is with our (American) values continually shifting to an "all about me" society, we might as well play into it and frame this issue as one that will "do your body good, while doing good for someone else". I'm not saying it's THE solution, but one that can be explored so the farmers don't lose the crops they've worked so hard to produce. It's just an idea. What's yours? I bet some enterprising person (personal trainer, perhaps) will think this through and it will become the next fitness craze.

        July 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Reply
      • Eukannt Avmai Adey

        I've been abroad, quite a bit. We are laughed at, and justifiably so, but bear in mind every country and every culture has a lot of silliness in it, and a lot of the laughter aimed at America is thinly veiled jealousy. We can pretend they're not jealous, but America is still the land of plenty, in most respects. At three in the morning, I can jump in my car, run down to WalMart, and buy damn-near whatever I want, as a for instance... most other countries on Earth you can't say that.

        Sure, there are some places where the AVERAGE stats are better than in the US, like life-expectancy, for instance, but that's an AVERAGE. Numbers may not lie, but people can lie using numbers, skewing them any way they want. If you're an American, and you are finding yourself constantly embarrassed and ashamed of America, there's the door. Find somewhere where you'll be happier, like perhaps France. Of course, you may have to learn French... America is one of those places where you can come and although it is in your best interest to learn the language, we don't FORCE you. Try moving, and getting permanent status in Spain, or Italy... have fun. Oh, btw... America will let you in under most circumstances, (or at least we used to...) there are not many countries as permissive as ours.

        Maybe we're too permissive, but hey... somebody's got to be America, why not America?

        July 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  45. please

    I can't find anyone to work for me for 50 cents an hour. What ever will I do???

    July 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Reply
  46. t3chn0ph0b3

    Non-violent drug offenders. The new slave class.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Reply
    • momzna

      Yeah, just put them to harvest marijuana. They would do it for free.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  47. coflyboy

    AMERICAN farm workers... what a concept. Inmates facing a real penalty and doing something constructive instead of lounging around prison... what a concept. Maybe there is hope for America after all.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • Andrew

      Yes, like the hope that eventually the government will put us all in prison and then we can all have low paying jobs. Think about the unemployment rate if this wonderful model works.

      Even better for private prisons, who can get paid to service the prison itself and then take a cut off the top of the prisoners small wage for providing the labor. Think I'll change industries.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
      • Hadenuffyet

        You work to live. You have to , at least responsible people do. Not any appreciable difference between slavery and employment. You just have the choice to not work , but the choice to not eat goes with that.

        July 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Reply
  48. Hadenuffyet

    agree.. bring out the chain gangs. Keep them too busy to cause trouble.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Reply
  49. ohsnap

    This is what happens when you start flouting the law. Americans used to farm and worked the farms. For generations. Someone got the bright idea of hiring illegals because you can pay them slave wages. Then by the time you get rid of the illegals, you are faced with generations who do not know how to farm, are 'techies'. So now where are you? Personally, I'd rather see inmates farming than sitting in cells all day long. Pay fair wages. Invest in the little farmers. Get back to basics.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Reply
    • JRH

      So you work on a farm then? For $6 an hour in the baking sun? Didn't think so.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  50. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    We don't need inmates picking onions or any other crop, give those Mexican labor jobs to white people who wanted them and that takes care of the problem.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply
    • Hadenuffyet

      Did you see nimbles replies below? That's the reason your vegetables and fruits aren't $10 a pound. Nobody is going to pay $25/hour to hoe weeds.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
      • Hawk

        You ever hoe weeds for 8 hours? I have, it is hard work!

        July 9, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
        • Hadenuffyet

          Sure have , lol , and did it to keep from getting my arse beat. Sure didn't merit getting paid for.

          July 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
        • Hadenuffyet

          Yup. But that was a few years ago . Today $25 an hour is on par with an auto worker makes. You'd do good to get $10 an hour for this. Kids around here will be de-tasseling corn soon , minimum wage. And they'll do it.

          July 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
      • grewupdoingfarmwork

        from the corn/bean farm lands.... kids always did the corndetassling/bean walking/rock picking... town kids who wanted to make more money than babysitting and farm kids did these jobs for minimum wage all summer. I guess where it's warm most of the year round there is work to be done like this when school is still on – but I'm guessing most of the harvest would happen during the summer. my friends and I were lazy as hell in some ways, but we did this work in the summer to get our partying money and clothes money.... there's got to be teenagers out there who would do this work – it's the perfect time of your life to bust your hump in the heat! nothing like bonding with your peers over some repetitive back breaking work. in my 40s now and people I used to detassle with will still talk about the fun we had practically killing ourselves for that min wage money... but when you have no bills it is enough.

        July 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Reply
    • aditya256

      Wait, first off, why is it only WHITE people. So just because someone is not white they are an inmate or illegal. Secondly, if Americans did this work they would demand significantly higher wages. You are clearly an idiot in economic situations.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Reply
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