By Nicole Stinson
Photo courtesy of Derek Balsley.
Gone are the days where inmates served their time working with rocks and sledge hammers in the prison yards and quarries – or maybe that was just a Hollywood-constructed image. The East Canon City Correctional Complex, which never used rocks, offers inmates the opportunity to serve their time milking.
The Complex’s dairy program aims to teach prisoners the values of work ethic and responsibility as well as provide them the chance to learn specialist skills.
Located in the middle of Colorado, the East Canon City Correctional Complex encompasses several prisons, including the supermax Florence Prison also known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”. Unsurprisingly it is the two minimum-security prisons, the Skyline Correctional Center (SCC) and the Four Mile Correctional Center (FMCC) that run the dairy farm program which includes the milking of goats, cows, and water buffalo.
Organized by the Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) this program is one of over 60 employment initiatives designed to train inmates for life beyond prison. The CCI also generates over $10 million in revenue every year from the dairy farm, according to Colin Waters, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Corrections. The money is then used to lower prison costs.
The Skyline Correctional Center and the Four Mile Correctional Center require their inmates to maintain some form of employment while serving out their sentences. Although the dairy program is not an inmate’s only employment option, both centers feature on-site farms.
Waters tells BTR that the FMCC is fully equipped for the inmates to milk the water buffalo and process the milk before it is sold to cheese manufacturers. The prison also milks cows.
“Offenders must have a high school diploma or GED, be write-up free for six months, program compliant, and apply for the job. Offenders also must be approved through the facility. All training is provided through the program, with certain inmates serving as team leaders.”
GED programs are also offered at both correctional centers.
Incentives are also given to the inmates that participate and work hard. All inmates who are employed as part of the CCI programs received a base 60 cents an hour with increases of up to $1.50 based on experience.
“The water buffalo dairy program gives inmates training with animals and certifications with artificial insemination,” says Waters.
“As an additional benefit, offenders receive a percentage of revenue from that month, which is then divided by the hours they worked during the month. This gives them an incentive to report to work and gather as much milk as possible.”
The FMCC currently herds 250 water buffalo; however, they plan on expanding their stock to about 400 to meet the demand they are receiving for their milk, Steve Smith, Director of CCI tells the press.
Leprino Foods, one of the country’s largest mozzarella producers, is a major buyer of the FMCC’s buffalo milk.
Buffalo milk is slightly fattier than cow’s milk, which gives the prison’s dairy products a unique taste, Mike Reid tells a local Colorado college radio station.
Sam Andersen in an article for The New York Times describes the buffalo-milk cheese as “the apotheosis of dairy: the golden mean between yogurt and custard and cottage cheese and heavy cream and ricotta”.
Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese has been purchasing goat milk from the CCI’s dairy program since 2006. Known for their award-winning cheeses, Haystack only uses goat milk supplied from the SCC.
“At that time, we needed more milk than our herd could provide, and our founder was retiring and moving so we needed a home for the herd. We toured their facility, we were impressed with what we saw so we decided to pursue the partnership,” says John Scaggs, Director of Sales and Marketing at Haystack.
“They are able to provide the quality, consistency, and quantity of milk that we require for cheese making.”
Scaggs also believes their involvement with Haystack is assisting in the rehabilitation of inmates.
“Studies show that animal husbandry programs have a profoundly rehabilitative impact on inmates. Statistics show that inmates are half as likely to be re-incarcerated following release if they participate in a husbandry program,” he says.
Prison programs are common throughout the US, says David Polizzi, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Indiana State University.
Polizzi also worked for the Pennsylvanian Department of Corrections and witnessed two prison-manufacturing programs run by the department, clothing and license plating.
“As you can imagine local manufacturers and the unions were not at all amused by such a strategy for all of the obvious reasons,” he says. “But these jobs were the most prized within the penitentiary given that it was possible to make a few hundred dollars a month, which is significant cash in a maximum security setting.”
Other prison programs in the US include Louisiana State Penitentiary’s rodeo where inmates are able to participate in the competition as well as sell arts and crafts at the accompanying show.
“Though I am skeptical of most of these programs, they do seem to provide an important function in removing the inmate from some of the general and potentially negative routines of normal penitentiary life,” says Polizzi.