WOOSTER, Ohio — The proposed closure and sale of Ohio’s 10 prison farms will affect some ongoing construction projects — including a $9 million project to build new dairy and beef facilities at two farms.
The state was in the final stages of constructing new cattle facilities at the London and Marion prison farms — and was about to begin installing the milking parlor equipment, when the intent to close and sell was announced, April 12.
Grant Doepel, deputy communications chief for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, told Farm and Dairy the department is reassessing the new buildings at London and Marion, to see how they can be repurposed for the prison. He said some other prison farms were also undergoing some routine renovations, and those projects will be re-assessed, as well.
He said the DRC will need the Ohio General Assembly’s approval to sell the property.
Rick Savors, media relations manager for the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, said selling the farms will affect the buildings being built — but not as much as some might expect.
“Two of those barns have already been completed and we are looking at ways of making the third structure a general purpose building,” he told Farm and Dairy.
Savors said it’s his understanding that the London the dairy parlor had already been completed, and that the Marion farm project was “substantially complete,” including a new manure storage system.
Savors said the state has halted the purchase of ag-specific items for the buildings, such as cow stalls, which account for about $350,000 of the $9 million.
The state-owned prison system includes 12,500 acres of farmland, 2,300 head of beef cattle and 1,000 dairy cows. The farms had been used as rehabilitation for inmates, and the food they produced was used to feed other prisoners.
Doepel said if the plan is approved, the department plans to continue farm operations this year, and begin selling the cattle in the summer.
Doepel said the department is in the process of assessing the land, and how to go about the sale. He said the DRC is also reviewing potential deed restrictions on some of the land. He said the Ohio legislature will determine how the money is allocated, once the assets are sold.
The DRC announced it will close and sell the farms because they have become outdated, and the money from the farms and livestock would be better spent on other forms of rehabilitation.
Prisons officials pointed to the low number of people who work on the farms — about 220 — compared to the total number being released from Ohio prisons, or about 20,000 a year.
“The phasing out of outmoded prison farming operations will improve safety and provide more meaningful career opportunities for prisoners returning to society,” according to a statement by the DRC.
Request for funds
A little more than a year earlier, when it requested $8.9 million to construct the new facilities, the DRC noted the benefits of prison farms.
“The agricultural program is one of several vocational programs operated by Ohio Penal Industries, and is designed to provide offenders with valuable skills that can be used in the community upon their release,” according to the DRC’s January 2015 request for funds from the Ohio Controlling Board.
According to the request, improvements were to include updates to the dairy parlor at the London facility, to support a new, 6,400-gallon milk tank, a free-stall barn capable of supporting 324 stalls, and a 975-head mono slope barn.
The Marion farm was to receive a 200-cow free-stall barn, and a manure storage and reclaiming facility.
The selling of prison farms could also impact a long-standing relationship the DRC has with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to supply produce. The partnership had previously provided about 800,000 pounds of produce grown at the prison farms to the foodbanks.
Following the announcement, staff met with foodbank leaders, to assure them a plan would be made to continue supplying produce through the current year.
Doepel said the department is willing to look at options beyond this year, that could potentially continue the supply of food to the foodbanks.
“We’re looking at all opportuitines,” he said. “We don’t have anything set in stone yet.”
- Ohio corrections department announces plans to close prison farms (April 15, 2016).
- Prison farms help inmates experience freedom, learn responsibility (April 3, 2014).
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