State prison officials are considering using prisoners to help out on farms |

State prison officials are considering using prisoners to help out on farms

DENVER – State prison officials are considering using prison inmates to help out on farms after farmers complained that a crackdown on illegal immigrants has left them short-handed.Rep. Dorothy Butcher, D-Pueblo, said the Colorado Department of Corrections has tentatively agreed to supply inmates to work area farms.Department of Corrections executive director Ari Zavaras said the work program would operate under the department’s Correctional Industries Program, which helps inmates obtain work while in prison and learn a skill at the same time.”We have a lot of details to work out, but this probably will start as a pilot program in Pueblo County. Depending on how well it works, we’ll see where it will go,” Zavaras said Monday.Zavaras said the program fits in with his and Gov. Bill Ritter’s new emphasis on reducing recidivism in state prisons.Zavaras and Ritter have said that by reducing recidivism, the state can save money on having to build new prisons, which under current growth estimates will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.Avondale farmers Joe Pisciotta and Phil Prutch told Zavaras and House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, that immigrant workers are afraid to come to Colorado because of the state’s tougher immigrant laws.”They’ve just given up and gone to other states that don’t have these new laws. They just don’t want to deal with it,” Pisciotta said.The two Pueblo vegetable farmers said they need from five to 20 workers and are willing to pay up to $9.60 an hour, more than they’ve paid migrant workers in the past, but they can’t find anyone to do the work.Zavaras said he is hopeful something will be done before the farmers need them in May and June, when the local growing season begins.

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