Thursday, June 16, 2011

Georgia Gov thinks probationers can replace illegal immigrant employees

Here's a fascinating policy suggestion for employing probationers out of Georgia, via Business Week magazine:
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal offered a provocative solution Tuesday for farmers who claim workers have been scared away by a crackdown on illegal immigration: Hire people on probation to toil in the fields instead.

The Republican governor offered his remarks after an unscientific survey showed roughly 11,000 job openings in the state's agricultural economy. He requested the survey after growers warned that a new Georgia law targeting illegal immigrants was scaring away workers needed to harvest labor-intensive crops like peaches and berries that are easily damaged by machines.
They've actually begun a small pilot program to try out the idea, but won't yet publicly discuss the details:
State correction officials sent a handful of the more than 15,000 unemployed people on probation statewide to work Monday on a south Georgia vegetable farm as part of a pilot program matching offenders with employers, said Stan Cooper, the state's director of probation operations. Most people on probation are nonviolent offenders.

"There was a couple who just left early, just couldn't handle the heat and stuff," Cooper said. "But there were several who stuck it out, seven, eight hours in the field."

State authorities are still finalizing the program details. No farmer will be forced to hire offenders on probation, who must generally seek work unless they are infirm but can turn down job offers. In an extreme case, an offender who continually refuses to take a job could face additional punishment.
Texas has not yet passed anything close to Arizona or Georgia-style legislation targeting illegal immigrants, and IMO it's precisely because too many large employers rely on them, despite populist (read: nativist) support for doing so. But where such measures have been adopted, it creates a huge gap in low-wage workers, particularly in the Ag sector:
[Farmer Sam] Watson said he could only hire two-thirds of the 60 workers he would have wanted to harvest squash, cucumbers and zucchini from his 300-acre farm. He blamed the state's new law targeting illegal immigrants for driving away Hispanic workers. The lack of labor forced him to leave 13 acres of squash to rot in his fields.

"We've got to come up with something," Watson said. "There's no way we can continue if we don't have a labor source to pull from."

More than half of the available jobs identified in the survey of roughly 230 farmers pay less than $9 per hour and last less than six months. Few growers offered their workers other benefits.
The problem of course is that farm work is seasonal and probationers need longer term jobs. Plus most probationers are urbanites while farm jobs are by definition rural. So I suspect there are limits to how sucessful such an initiative might be, but I like that the Georgia Governor is looking for creative ways to find jobs for unemployed probationers.

The problems matching probationers with farm jobs bespeaks larger logistical issues with large-scale immigration crackdowns: Before recent efforts to "secure" the border, many illegal immigrant workers were migrants, showing up during harvest time to work, moving from area to area as needed to find jobs, then going home when the picking season was done. Ironically, border restrictions have made illegal crossings more expensive and dangerous, encouraging many such (previously short-term) workers to stay in the United States for longer stretches instead of going home in between job stints, contributing to the situation such laws are aimed at resolving. And as attested by the crops rotting in Georgia fields, those workers actually performed an important economic role that in the modern era can't be easily substituted.


Anonymous said...

I've always felt like that adage "they're just doing jobs that Americans don't want to do" was a crock. For Pete's sake, our unemployment rate is at a historically high level. You can't tell me there aren't plenty of Americans--probationers included--who wouldn't love to have ANY kind of job right now.

Anonymous said...

On the surface, this looks like a good idea; however, you don't have to dig very far into the logistical and legal liability issues to see that there are some real landmines to be avoided. Most of the crops that require migrant labor are probably down in the RGV

First of all, consider the housing and feeding requirements for a couple of regiments of "pickers". You're talking "Cider House Rules" on a large scale. You start housing criminals together in an unsupervised environment, and you will soon have drug dealing, drug using, assaults, and unsafe sex as the preferred after-hours intramural sports. The growers will not want to be held responsible, so the state will wind up with more expense than it bargained for.

On top of all that, picking crops is hard, back-breaking work. Most probationers will take jail time over that.

Anonymous said...

Arizona has the same problem. They used prisoners to work the farms. The farmers contract with the state and the prisoners get paid some very low wage.

ckikerintulia said...

Anonymous 8:29 is either ignorant of or chooses to ignore the logistical problems that anonymous 9:53 raises. The issue of this post is in Georgia. If Georgia's prison and probation/parole statistics are anything like the rest of the country, a huge percentage of the parolees in Georgia are going to be in Atlanta and a few other metropolitan areas around the state. They're not going to be next door to the vegetable fields and the fruit orchards. So they could not commute daily even if they had transportation. Is the state going to build dormitories for them to stay in for the two-three weeks they work in a given area? The governor's solution sounds good, but I doubt it's practicable. Of course, I guess he could get a law passed to offer parolees these jobs, then if they won't or can't take them, revoke their parole, send them back to the slammer, and then have chain gangs go work in the field.

As for the immigrants, just pull all the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and put them on border patrol with orders to shoot anyone crossing the border illegally.

If the farmers don't have hands to gather the fruit and vegetables, let the nativists go work in the fields or pay higher prices for the produce. Of course all of us will pay the higher prices.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:29, when it's 103 degrees outside and humid, I don't think there are many Americans who would "love" to pick vegetables in an open field for $9 per hour. Would you?

Good points, 9:53. You too, Charles, except your second graph; even though I know it was tongue in cheek, I don't think even that tactic would stop illegal immigration. After all, half of illegal immigrants come legally and overstay their visas, and by most accounts, the majority of others cross at the checkpoints under the noses of unwitting or bribed border officials.

Back to the main topic of the post and your assessment of its logical conclusion, the leasing of convict labor to businesses - e.g., Imperial Sugar at the Central Unit in Sugar Land - was a particularly dark hour in the history of Texas corrections. Certainly we don't want to revert back to that dismal state. Forced labor for private profit, whether among prisoners, probationers, or parolees, would be fraught with ethical dillemmas.

Back in Texas' convict leasing days, organized labor and the populist movement (Grange types, etc.) fought the practice, but today I don't know that there's any comparable political force with an interest in reining it in if such a system were re-instituted.

What 10:14 describes in AZ sounds exactly like the old convict leasing setup. I hadn't heard about that.

Anonymous said...

Why does the state have to be involved at all. Just free up the jobs and make them available. If you wanted to give farmers some type of tax incentive (e.g., a property tax rebate) for hiring probationers or parolees, then so much the better. this notion that Americans won't pick vegatables in 103 weather is complete and utter B.S.. We are making it way too easy in this country to be lazy and live off the government "teet." During the Great Depression/Dust Bowl era, entire families packed up and moved completely across the country in order to find jobs to survive. Now they draw Obama's unemployment benefits for 2 years because that's easier and less hot and humid than picking Georgia peaches. I'm sure those probations can transfer down to the Rio Grande Valley, or perhaps non-violent offenders can just report by mail during the harvest season. Why does the state have to arrange for their housing?

Anonymous said...

Grits, thanks for adding the part about tax breaks, bonding, and maybe an entire family may move into the area to do the work or set up a home there. Just a thought. I know it can be bad when you get a bunch of men without the positive influence of a wife and children together. There is room for lots of possibilities on this issue.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:00 writes: "During the Great Depression/Dust Bowl era, entire families packed up and moved completely across the country in order to find jobs to survive."

Of course, most of them moved FROM places like Texas to California, where the high in LA today will be about 70 F compared to 103 today in Austin. Yes, people will still move across the country for jobs, and do everyday. But they're not moving to make low wages picking vegetables the way migrant workers from Mexico have in the Rio Grande Valley for generations. Many people have migrated to Texas to work in recent years, and very few if any of the American-born migrants came here to do menial ag work.

The short answer to why the government need be involved, be it through tax breaks or probation department programming, etc., is that it's the only way it would actually happen. As a practical mattter, poor Mexicans are willing to move for those wages but Americans generally aren't. Probationers in Georgia could go pick peaches right now with no government subsidy, but they don't. That's the reality, whatever you think they should do. Now it's true, eliminate the social safety net and transform the US into a Third World country and maybe more Americans will be willing to go that route, but there are other costs to doing so that your comments don't acknowledge.

A Texas PO said...

This sounds like a great opportunity for probationers being housed in CRTCs across the state. Most CRTCs require probationers to find employment once they have reached certain goals in the program so they can make payments towards their fees. It also sounds like an awesome opportunity for state restitution centers to pretty much guarantee a workforce since many CRTCs are in rural areas. But, as the post points out, these jobs are seasonal. When you factor in the legendary Texas heat, pesticides and chemicals on the plants being picked, and $9.00 wages, I can see how this would be unappealing. I am glad, though, to see that Georgia is thinking outside the box on this one.

Anonymous said...

On so many job sites the only language spoken is Spanish. Any American who doesn't speak Spanish will not be hired for those jobs. Progressives will lie and deny this (they care nothing for the truth), but any who are honest will say this is true. All you have to do is listen to the words being spoken - on many jobs, none of those word are English.

Anonymous said...

I agree it's a great *nascent* idea. But far too many reentry programs don't take into account the objective reality of prisoners walking out of the gate.

I wonder, for example, about women prisoners, walking out with gate money with the sole objective to reunite with their children and support them. How can they, ably and readily, take advantage of the jobs and housing in the Rio Grande Valley ? There will need to be program support with the field jobs, in order for prisoners to readily and ably be successful. Please don't set up prisoners to fail, when many just desperately - and against all odds - want to succeed.

PirateFriedman said...

12:00:00 PM

Those are some good points. I would say we need a combination of getting rid of the social safety net, eliminating the minimum wage and plenty of immigrants to drive the price of peaches down.

A lot of America's poor live on pasta and soda because its cheap. Drive the price of peaches down so they have a choice.

And maybe then we'll become like a "third world economy". That is, an economy growing at 10%, rather than a measly 2%. Be careful who you condemn, one day they will dominate you.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, who would I want to hire?

Job applicant number one is so desperate to earn an honest living that he'll not only risk federal prosecution for a job, but he'll even risk his life sneaking into this country through the desert in the middle of summer. Job applicant number two prefers to just smoke dope and rob people.

Gimmie a friggin' break.

DEWEY said...

For a decent wage, Texas parolees might consider this. After all, most of them are used to "working in the fields", since almost all of the education and job training opportunities have been cut in TDCID.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

One of the big problems is, There is no decent wage to be made. I have done this type of work on uncle buds farm and it aint no cakewalk kids. BUT people gotta do what they gotta d these days I get that. As bad as I hate to, Ive got to agree that the illegals are more motivated and will do the job faster and better than probationers. It shouldnt be true but it is, like it or not.

Anonymous said...

Some of the stereotypes here are off the hook. Who is locked up? A lot of people who fall into both categories. And there are a lot of people in prison who work extremely hard - just look at the fire crew program in California. And there are many, many more examples. They get out and cannot find a job. Many prisoners want to be reunited with their families and work hard. If you do not give them a chance you ensure failure.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Pirate says "maybe then we'll become like a 'third world economy'. That is, an economy growing at 10%, rather than a measly 2%," but in reality neither you nor anybody else would really prefer that.

Think about it: if your economy is $10 billion and it grows by 10%, GDP reaches only $11 billion. If your economy is $10 trillion and it grows by 2%, it grows by $20 billion. I'd take the latter bump any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Growth rates are relative.

PirateFriedman said...

Grits that's true. Nobody doubts America is a better place to live than Paraguay, but if trends continue they will catch up.

Economic growth gives our children a chance to have a better way of life than we did.

By the way, there was recently an important summit in Dallas to push for more economic growth and less government.

Anonymous said...

Probationers don't need to replace illegal immigrant employees. Cray talk, that is all this is from what sounds like a redneck Governor. Its not a wonderful opportunity for probationers at CCFs (i.e., CRTC, ISF, Rest. Ctr.). The CCCF would be opening itself up to plenty of having to answer to somebody about this type of decision. If the probationer at the CCF wanted to work at a place like that, maybe, but still I can see lots of CCF Directors as well as CSCD Directors and maybe even CJAD personnel having to appear in Court to explain why the probationers at these facilities had to perform such "hard labor". I doubt the JAC or PAC would be completely on board with this type of thought.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:
"..when it's 103 degrees outside and humid, I don't think there are many Americans who would "love" to pick vegetables in an open field for $9 per hour. Would you?"

I bet you would if your next meal depended upon it. That's what many rural retirees do, and I bet most of those did it in the 103 degree heat all week. My elderly grandparents, aunts, and uncles used to do it. Social Security often doesn't pay all the bills, and many rural retirees depend upon their gardens for food. So, if our retired elderly can do it, why are ex-cons too good to do it?

Anonymous said...

Boss Hogg economics :

Anonymous said...

Jim Mersky said...

There are a lot of lazy people that will not work in this country. Too many want to be the boss, but don't want to work for it.

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