By Jeanne Bonner
(GPB News) ATLANTA — Prison inmates are working on a Vidalia onion farm in southeast Georgia as part of a state program to fill empty farm jobs.
‘transitional’ inmates packing onions at the Wayne Durrence Farm in
Glennville are getting ready to return to the outside world. A part of
their paychecks goes to the state to defray incarceration costs.
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black says the effort differs from a program last year involving people who are on probation.
state sent probationers to farms after a new law cracking down on
illegal workers left thousands of farm jobs unfilled. Few lasted more
than a couple of hours.
Black says transitional inmates have worked on prison farms and in poultry plants for years.
get a good, motivated worker and then when they get out of prison, many
times they have a full time job waiting on them. It cures several
problems at once," he said in a phone interview. "But it’s never been
used in production agriculture.”
Owner Wayne Durrence says he has no complaints about the inmates harvesting his Vidalia onions.
worked out real good," he said. "Some of them even said when they get
out, they may come back and work for me, you know maybe next year. They
have really worked out good.”
Durrence says there are fewer
migrant workers in Georgia now that the immigration law is in effect. He
says he also uses some foreign guest workers through a federal H2A visa
program but it's a hassle.
There are about 400 inmates in the
transitional work program, Black said, although only about 10 have been
working at the onion farm. Short of reforming the federal H2A program,
he said there's no silver bullet to solving Georgia's labor shortage.
federal judge has blocked parts of Georgia's immigration law, pending a
ruling expected this month by the U.S. Supreme Court on a similar