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death of a prisoner fieldworker

In 2007, Colorado State Representative Dorothy Butcher proposed using prisoners to replace the migrant farm workers avoiding the state's new immigration laws. Ten women from the minimum-security La Vista Correctional Facility were given the opportunity to earn $4 a day hoeing and thinning vegetables on five Colorado farms. The first crew proved successful (or, rather, profitable) and the Colorado DOC began transferring more women to La Vista and sending them out to work in the fields.

This past summer saw the first casualty of the DOC's new work-first policy.


[i] Margie Wood, "DOC Pilot Program Working Well," The Pueblo Chieftain, July 11, 2007, 1A-2A. The farmers pay the Department of Corrections $9.60 per prisoner per hour, which covers not only the $4 daily wage but also the expenses of their supervisor / guard, meals and transportation.


background information on La Vista's farm crews:

I should explain what exactly the farm crews are and how they came to be part of La Vista. As our country has been especially concerned with immigration issues, sometime within the past few years nearby farms have been raided and their owners were found to be employing illegal immigrants to work in their fields. The farm owners then needed an alternative to replace this extremely cheap labor, which is how contracts were developed between Colorado Industries, Colorado Department of Corrections and the farms. At first, the farmers were skeptical about the reliability and quality of work the women were capable of performing; my friend, who works on a farm crew, said that some of the farmers told her that they doubted the women would work as hard as the male workers that they replaced.

But this past year more farms want contracts...



from a prisoner at La Vista


A woman who was working on the farm crew died while on the job. I heard a few different "versions" of what happened. The first one I heard was from someone who was not out there. She said that the woman kept complaining that she did not feel well, but her boss kept telling her to keep going, that he didn't care, that she had to finish the row. I heard from two people (who also were not there) that her boss also told her that if she collapsed not to do it in the rows, to make sure she collapsed between them.

I also heard from an inmate who does work the farms that her boss did not do anything wrong, that he told her to go rest. She went and sat under a tree. He had another inmate check on her, which is when she was found lying on her side unconscious. Her boss then proceeded to do mouth to mouth and was frantically trying to revive her. They called an ambulance, but she was already dead.

She was supposed to leave in October. It was her first day working the fields. From everything I've heard and the discussions surrounding what happened, most seem to blame our medical staff because people who lived in the woman's unit say that she had a medical condition that she did complain about and that she did alert medical about, but they did not honor that. (Medical has to clear any worker in order for them to be able to work on any crew. So basically that means that medical wrongly gave her clearance and, if they say she's okay to work, she has no choice but to go out and work unless she wants a write-up, loss of good time, etc.)


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