Prisoners Harvesting Wine In California

Earlier this year we heard about an Italian jail where the inmates made fine wine and cheese. The stuff is so good it now sells for upwards of $90 dollars a bottle here in the United States. Just like a grape heading from the Old World to the New World we’ve found a similar story out in California. Inmates at the Mendocino County Jail in California are helping out with this year’s harvest:

Harvesting wine grapes is a hot, dirty, physically challenging job, but Clinton Durant, a Mendocino County Jail inmate, is happy to have the opportunity to work and earn money through an unusual new jobs program initiated this summer by Sheriff Tom Allman.

It’s the first time anyone can recall that inmates have been hired to work in local vineyards and the first time the jail has acted as an employment agency, connecting inmates with private employers who are having trouble finding workers. It’s good for employers, good for the inmates and good for the public because it could help rehabilitate law breakers and reduce recidivism, officials say.

Why would a vineyard turn to prisoners? It’s become increasingly difficult to find anyone to help out with the harvest:

It’s especially difficult for farmers to find enough seasonal workers for grape harvests, which require intensive work over a short period of time. Most vineyards have year-round workforces but need many more people for harvest. It’s a chronic problem that worsened several years ago following a border crackdown.

The program seems like a success for everyone involved:

Durant and five other inmates picking Pinot Noir grapes at Barra of Mendocino on Wednesday said the work is difficult but they were thrilled to have the opportunity.

“This helps me out a lot,” said Jaime Gonzalez, who became homeless after becoming addicted to methamphetamine and losing his job. He said he expects to earn enough to pay off his court fines and start a new life after he completes a drug rehabilitation program in Eureka.

There are nine inmates in the program altogether. Three are longer-term inmates who have found year-round jobs they will be able to keep after being released if they prove themselves worthy.

Read more at the Press Democrat.

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