SALEM, Ohio — With its dairy cows now sold, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is buying about $2.6 million in milk to supply its prisons.
An existing contract between the state and several Ohio dairy suppliers was expanded in late May to supply about 1.3 million gallons of milk to prison facilities.
According to the contract, milk is being supplied from United Dairy, Toft Dairy, Borden Dairy, Smith Foods and Reiter Dairy.
The move from milking to buying comes after an April 12 decision by the corrections department to get out of the farming business, and sell most of the prison farm assets, including land and cattle. Selling the land will require legislative approval and is still pending.
The department said it could better use the money within prison walls, to provide more meaningful rehabilitation for inmates seeking jobs after being released. The department also cited concerns that the farms were being used by inmates to bring contraband into the prisons.
Some sources have also said it makes economic sense for the state to purchase its milk, versus trying to produce it. The 1.3 million gallons the state has to buy would also be costly to produce, and would include such costs as cows, feed, labor, breeding and veterinary care.
Farm and Dairy sought comment from the corrections department on the cost to produce milk versus the cost to buy, but did not receive a response by press time.
Farm and Dairy also continues to seek sale results from the sale of dairy cattle, which began May 16 in Mount Hope, and concluded June 9. The department had about 1,000 dairy cows, according to a release.
Farmers who sell cows at livestock auctions typically know what the cows brought within the same week of the sale. A spokesperson for the corrections department said they do not have official results yet.
On June 17, Farm and Dairy made a public records request with legal counsel at the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, seeking sale results.
The announcement that the state would sell its prison farms, some of which date back to more than 100 years, came as a surprise for some lawmakers and Ohio citizens, who knew nothing about it until the state agency announced its decision.
Reactions varied from support and understanding, to concern and confusion. The announcement came at a time when the state was in the finishing stages of a $9 million construction project that included a new dairy parlor and new cow barns — investments that would have pointed toward a future in farming.
The union that represents prison employees at the prison farms is currently suing the state, for an injunction against the sale, arguing employee bargaining rights were ignored.
That case was filed by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association and is being heard in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
- Ohio corrections department announces plans to close prison farms (April 15, 2016).
- Prison farms help inmates experience freedom, learn responsibility (April 3, 2014).
- Union sues Ohio to keep prison farms open (May 11, 2016).
- Closing Ohio’s prison farms will halt a $9 million project (May 2, 2016).
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