6/14 – WABE(Audio) – Offenders To Help Fill Farm Work Shortage (2011-06-14)

WABE: Offenders To Help Fill Farm Work Shortage (2011-06-14).

(2011-06-14)

(WABE)11,000 people are needed on farms across Georgia to fill the work shortage exacerbated by the state’s new illegal immigration law. That’s according to findings from the Georgia Department of Agriculture released today. Governor Deal says a partial solution is to fill those jobs with people on probation.

There are 100,000 people in Georgia with something in common. They’re on probation. When you’re on probation, you have to find a job in order to stay out of jail.

“One of our responsibilities is to try to guide and direct offenders to potential employment possibilities throughout the state when they come available,” said Georgia Department of Corrections probation director Stan Cooper.

A lot of available farm jobs, according to state leaders, are in Southwest Georgia where agriculture is king and the unemployment rate is more than 10%. Cooper says 8,000 of Georgia’s offenders on probation could potentially fit the bill. He says a pilot program will offer those workers to farmers desperate for help.

“We’re indentifying a small amount of growers right now in South Georgia that need immediate assistance in those areas,” said Cooper. “What we’re doing is giving offenders opportunities, if you will, for employment in those areas.”
While Cooper calls the plan a win-win, there are questions.

“The concern is whether the court can legally require someone on probation to do a specific kind of work,” said Atlanta criminal defense attorney and WABE legal analyst Page Pate.

Judges decide what offenders must do while on probation. Pate wonders if the program would give judges and probation officers too much power over unemployed offenders.

“Right now, if there’s a condition of your probation that requires you to maintain employment, it really means is that you’re out there looking for work if you don’t have work,” said Pate. “In this situation, the probation officer could tell offenders if they don’t find work, you’re going out to work on the farm.”

Cooper rejects the notion admits farm work is hard but also says farmers and offenders will make the final decision.

“It’s a great opportunity for offenders and has nothing to do with forced labor,” said Cooper.

For starters, Cooper says three growers have expressed interest. He also says the state is working with the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association to make that number grow.

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