Syngenta Hawaii recently began participating in a work-release jobs program to help inmates at the Kauai Community Correctional Center transition back into the community as they complete their sentences. These KCCC workers already live outside of the correctional facility in housing on KCCC property and the next step for them is to begin working and becoming financially independent.
At Syngenta Hawaii, we are happy to be offering those who have paid their debt to society the opportunity to become productive members of our island ohana. Unfortunately, some who oppose the use of biotechnology in agriculture see something wrong with anything we do, including this initiative.
They have accused us of laying off workers so we could use “cheap prison labor.” Over the past four years, we have continued to strengthen the local economy by adding full-time employees. For the record, Syngenta has no plans to reduce the number of permanent full-time employees.
Like other farms, we also have seasonal workers, typically hiring up to 150 a year. Currently, about 10 of these individuals are work-release employees. This employment lasts until the seasonal activity has concluded, much like retail stores hire extra staff for the Christmas season.
We hire the work-release employees just like we hire all of our seasonal employees — through a third-party employment company, which has helped us meet our seasonal labor needs for several years.
The company we use has the contract with KCCC to locate jobs for those in the work-release program, and Syngenta Hawaii has agreed to accept people from the program as part of our seasonal hiring. We do not receive any discounts for hiring them, just the satisfaction of seeing them gainfully employed.
However, we do get the reward of feeling good when we hear from former inmates about how this program helped change their lives. One of these, Kawika Manaku, started in the work-release program and since finishing the program has remained employed as a third party employee.
He said, “The people at Syngenta treat us like everybody else. I love my job and drive all the way from Anahola every day.”
Syngenta is one of many employers offering seasonal labor for those in the work-release program. These local inmates are rejoining our community, and offering them seasonal labor jobs helps rebuild and reestablish their confidence, enables them to readjust to work and get used to working alongside others again.
We think participation in the work-release program is the right thing to do for those making a new start in life. And we believe giving these former inmates jobs helps them demonstrate to the community, their families and themselves their ability to be productive citizens.
• Mark Phillipson is a spokesman with Syngenta Hawaii.