Farmers not seeking inmate labor locally

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Covington County farmers have not asked for inmate labor help to harvest crops left in the fields because of the lack of immigrant workers.

Farmers are among business owners that have said they’ve seen workers flee the state in the wake of the immigration law. The law requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check potential employees’ legality and says law enforcement can ask people to show their documentation if it’s suspected they’re in the state illegally.

Last week, state Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan said he and officials from the Governor’s Office, the Industrial Relations office and the state Department of Corrections were looking at solutions to a potential labor shortage after some farmers said the state’s tough new immigration law is causing unpicked produce to rot in the fields.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks said Monday he’s had zero requests for the use of inmate labor as a reaction to the immigration law.

“We really only have one farmer that has an inmate, and that’s only because (the inmate) worked for him before he got arrested,” Meeks said.

“If (the lack of workers) becomes a problem here for farmers, we’d treat them as if they were any other business looking to utilize the work release program,” Meeks said. “If they meet the qualifications, we’d look at it and do our best to help.

“The biggest thing is that one must have workmen’s compensation insurance to be able to utilize the program,” he said. “Then as a general rule, the inmate cannot go outside the county.”

Meeks said the insurance is needed in case the inmate is injured while working.

“As for the inmate side to qualify, we run a criminal history to determine what they’re charged with, and no one with a violent crime like murder or a sexual abuse charge is allowed to participate in the program,” he said.