Alabama Looks to Prison Labor

According to Alabama Department of Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, the state government might soon be forced to rely on convict labor to make up dramatic and chronic farm labor shortages. Earlier this summer, Alabama passed a series of strict immigration laws designed to curb illegal immigration in the state. An unintended consequence of this law, however, was a massive flight of Hispanic farm workers.

Following in the wake of Georgia and Arizona, Alabama’s immigration law is one of the toughest in the nation. In addition to requiring the use of the federal E-Verify system, the new law empowers state police to determine the residency status of anyone detained by law enforcement and requires Alabama schools to determine the immigration status of children.

Fearing persecution by police, many farm workers have left the state, leaving Alabama farmers in the lurch. The massive decline in farm labor has left crops rotting in the field and has led to multi-million dollar losses for the agricultural sector.

Alabama Governor Nathan Deal’s latest plan to deal with the labor crisis is to offer non-violent Alabama convicts the opportunity to sign up for agricultural work-release programs, giving them the chance to work on Alabama farms for wages set by local farmers.

A similar plan was enacted in Georgia earlier this summer to mixed results. Many convicts quit their jobs after only a few days. Although farmers are hopeful that the use of convict labor will stem the financial losses, many are looking to the state government to provide a long-term solution.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer