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Food and Agriculture
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Kaplan University, School of Public Safety
Published: 03/20/2017

Garlic-ginger-pepper Our topic for this month is food and agriculture. These two areas are important in state correctional systems. We know the importance of food for the inmate population and meeting daily nutritional requirements. Costs are always a factor to consider and this day and age, we know there are many budget constraints in place. Some states have continued to grow their own vegetables and expanded into additional agricultural areas. Not all state correctional systems agree upon this practice and support these decisions. The pros and cons do exist and we will also explore these areas.

The State of Colorado Canon City Correctional Complex utilizes a prison for the raising of tilapia. There is a processing plant where the fish are processed and shipped to a major food store. However, September 2015 saw the contract stopped due to protestors at the food store. Protestors had concerns with inmates participating in this program. Other stores are looking at entering the market. Also, goat cheese and milk are both produced at the prison and inmates are involved in the processing. I was unable to get an update on the status of this currently.

Some additional states’ correctional systems also raise cattle for consumption, dairy products (milk and cheese), swine, chickens, and other. Swine are raised as an additional food source. The livestock programs are beneficial and are ways to curb some costs. Some of the other agricultural programs may consist of raising horses, growing cotton, beans, rice, milo and other row crops. Many states are also growing their own vegetables for use throughout the various food service programs. Fresh vegetables are being served during season and some states have in place a processing plant to freeze and store vegetables for the winter months. This supplements food programs and assists in controlling food costs.

I identified some additional areas to consider and these consist of general comments and observations, along with some pros and cons. Budget constraints and other factors to consider; costs to house, feed, provide medical care, appropriate clothing and housing for inmate workers, fuel costs, equipment costs, and other equipment costs. Does the current prison population have inmates eligible to work in the various farm programs? Some of the benefits may involve inmates working, getting fresh air, not sitting idle in the barracks, therapeutic, sense of doing something, and other. Ensure there is a classification system in place to identify those inmates eligible and meet medical and security requirements. All inmates meeting medical and other classification areas are eligible to work. Then the next question becomes; is the prison system able to provide the necessary jobs, safety, and security for prison agriculture programs?

Additional areas to consider:
  • If food and other items are part of the agricultural program and then sold at market, are local farmers supportive of this?
  • Are potential jobs for the community affected by inmates performing same/similar jobs?
  • Complete and review cost analysis of food costs for growing fresh produce versus purchasing produce and/or processed vegetables?
  • Are the farm programs supported by the taxpayers?
  • Research and compare food costs in states with agricultural programs versus those states without agricultural programs.
  • Other
Some of the prisons with similar farm programs also have vocational training programs available. This is an additional resource available for inmates to learn a marketable trade and job related skills. The inmates who successfully complete the vocational program, may be eligible to participate in some of the skilled agricultural positions.

Fresh vegetables are always well received by the inmate population. Food service staff and inmates are essential in food preparation. We know from experience there are many incidents related to food service and the importance of maintaining a quality food service program.

My personal views and opinions are based on prior corrections experience that supported a strong agricultural program. There are many job skills developed by inmates and can be applied in the workforce. I, as a taxpayer, am supportive of the various prison agricultural programs provided there are safety and security mechanisms in place. If your system has agricultural and food services programs, be supportive and let the staff and workers know they are appreciated.

Stay safe out there.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell



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