Colorado prisoners head for the hills

It’s no summer camp, but some Colorado convicts have been transported to the mountains as part of a prison labor program. According to the Denver Post, two dozen minimum security inmates are working in the Arapaho National Forest north of Silverthorne to clear trees that have been demolished by the pine beetle epidemic. The prisoners are paid $3 per day, plus a monthly bonus by the Forest Service. And they earn one day off of their sentences for each day worked. The inmates seem to feel perfectly peachy about the arrangement:


"The last 10 years I’ve been behind razor wire," Daniel Martinez was quoted saying. "Now I’m able to enjoy nature, and it’s going to get me back to my family faster."


But the program brings to mind last year’s farm worker debacle, in which prisoners were recruited to work on Southern Colorado fields that were hurting from a lack of migrant laborers. In that case, the prisoners were paid a meager 60 cents per day. The plan came under heavy fire from both prisoner rights advocates and immigrants rights groups, who said that the program demeaned the value of farm labor and amounted to slavery. Farmers, too, were skeptical of the plan since they would have to train a workforce unfamiliar with farm labor.


So far, there has been no outcry surrounding the forest labor program. In fact, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, one group against the farm labor plan, spoke highly of the program on its blog, saying "[The prisoners] work hard all day, make enough money to save something for when they are released and the recidivism rate is 50 percent less than the rest of the state."

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Naomi Zeveloff

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