Alabama Farmers Look To Replace Migrants With Prisoners

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Alabama’s expansive anti-immigrant law, HB56, has been so economically devastating that farmers are seeking legislation to force hard labor on prison inmates eligible for work release programs, to “help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor.” One of the harshest instances of anti-immigrant legislation in the nation, HB 56 requires local police to verify the immigration status of anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally. The law spurred an exodus of mainly Hispanic workers who moved to other states for fear of being deported.  The Obama administration has challenged HB56’s constitutionality, arguing that it infringes on federal powers.

In December 2011, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industry officials met with farmers to discuss their proposal to use prisoners in place of migrant workers.  Notably, the state’s Department of Corrections opposes the legislation, noting that its approximately 2,000 prisoners eligible for work release already have jobs, and that “the prison system isn’t the solution to worker shortages caused by the law.”

The proposal to employ prison labor for private farming operations is not new.  Idaho has used prison labor on potato farms for nearly a decade.  The Wall Street Journal (October 2011) has praised the prison-farm business model, noting that inmates are “enthusiastic” about their jobs. In reality, corporate prison labor exploits prisoners by forcing them to work or face longer prison terms or loss of otherwise earned “good time.”


Prison labor-for-profit is possible due to passage of the Prison Industries Act, which ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, championed, and which expanded the existing Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIE).


Title: Alabama Farmers Look to Replace Migrants with Prisoners

Author: Agence France-Presse

Publication: The Raw Story

Date: 6 December 2011



Title: Of Course! Inmate Labor in Place of Migrants in Alabama

Author: CanyonWren

Publication: Daily Kos

Date: 8 December 2011



Title: The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor

Authors: Mike Elk and Bob Sloan

Publication: The Nation

Date: 1 August 2011



Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman, Santa Rosa Junior College

Student Researcher: Liliana Valdez-Madera, Santa Rosa Junior College