By Liam Michael O’Grady
In March, the state of Colorado announced a new prison labor program. Prison labor is a program where prisoners work for less than minimum wage while they are in jail. In Colorado’s new program, prisoners in some prisons pick fruits and vegetables on farms owned by large companies. The prisoners make just sixty cents per day.
Last summer, Colorado passed some of the strictest immigration laws in the United States. Because of this, farm owners have a shortage of workers, most of whom are Mexican immigrants. Many of the same rights denied to immigrant workers are now being denied to prison laborers. Workers who do prison labor do not have the same rights as other workers. In most cases, they don’t have the right to quit, they don’t have as many health benefits and they often work in more dangerous conditions than other workers.
There are currently prison labor programs in thirty-five states. Toys “R” Us and Microsoft have both used prison labor to make their products. The state of Colorado says that prison labor makes its prisoners become better citizens. At the same time, many programs that teach prisoners to read and write or teach job skills have been cut.
The United Farm Workers, a union of farm workers, urged the public to write to Colorado’s governor to “tell him that allowing growers to hire prisoners to work in agriculture is nothing more than legalized slavery.”