Is your food coming from a felon? Probably not, but a recent story in Fortune shows that prison labor is on the rise, especially in states like California and Colorado.
This isn’t a new trend, as many in the Upper Midwest will point out. In a days’ drive through Minnesota or Wisconsin you could easily run into a handful of locations that were former state hospital dairy farms. Some of those herds were previously the best-run in their regions, rumor has it, achieving high production and genetic value due to the abundance of labor at the farms. While a central database of dairy farms run by state institutions could not be located via an internet search, there are surely dozens throughout the county.
Today, over 63,000 inmates work to produce over $2 billion in products each year, reports The Atlantic. The Colorado program, named Colorado Correctional Industries (CCi) includes 6 inmates milking 1,000 goats at one farm. Base pay starts at $0.60 per day but prisoners can earn $300 to $400 each month. In CCi’s program there are 2,000 total inmates at 17 facilities across the state.
But The Atlantic raises the question of ethics, citing studies showing converse results – one says work is good for the prisoners while another says it isn’t. At $0.60 per day, it’s obvious that the contracted companies are getting a good deal – in this case Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese, which eventually is sold to Whole Foods – but could also be eliminating jobs that non-incarcerated Americans could be holding at a much higher wage.
The CCi website says that 560 acres are farmed among 8 prisons, with 30 acres used for produce at the prisons while 530 acres is used for corn silage at the CCi dairies. The site also notes that CCi owns a fishery, vineyard, and greenhouse.