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Bill passed through committee on inmate work in agriculture

'We need workers, the Idaho agriculture community needs workers'

Idaho Capitol Building

Credit: Contributed photo
Idaho Capitol Building

— A bill that would allow inmates to work in all areas of agriculture passed the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Friday, Jan. 19.

The bill, 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.


Contributed photo

Idaho Capitol Building

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.

“We need workers, the Idaho agriculture community needs 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, despite 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, 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.

“Physical, mental, I feel very grateful to be able to go out and do a program like that,” she said.

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.


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