A bill that would allow inmates to work in all areas of agriculture passed through the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Friday.
S1208, brought forward by Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, eliminates the words “perishable” and “food” in the section of Idaho law pertaining to inmate labor in agriculture. The eliminations would significantly expand the agricultural industries inmates would be able to work in.
Bill Clayton, founder of Clayton Tree Farm, testified at the meeting, saying that taking out those two words in the law would allow him to get the labor his business needs. Currently, his business does not qualify to hire incarcerated laborers, as trees are not classified as “perishable agriculture food products.”
“We need workers, the Idaho agriculture community need workers,” he said.
Clayton said when he first began his business, he had more workers than he needed, but in recent years has rarely had enough, in spite of wage increases and additional bonuses for employees.
Noel Barlow-Hust, warden of South Boise Women’s Correctional Center, said the change would give incarcerated women more opportunities.
“This is pretty huge for us,” she said.
Two inmates who had worked in agriculture during their incarceration also testified at the hearing. Darlene Haley, who worked at a berry ranch in Nampa, Idaho, said working allowed her to pay back $500 she owed her parents and begin saving up to buy a car or a place to live once she gets out.
At the meeting, Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls, asked Symms Fruit Ranch food safety director Charles Robinson, who testified in favor of the bill, and Clayton whether the inmates would be financially protected if a serious accident were to occur. Lodge later said the correctional facilities have a medical contract that addresses such situations.
The committee voted unanimously to send the bill on with a due pass recommendation.
Nina Rydalch is covering the Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho’s McClure Center and JAMM News Service.