Reported by Michal Ortner
Haystack Mountain, a business that makes cheese from goat milk, found a new way to keep their cheese factory afloat: They use men from a prison to help with the production of their products. Six men from the Colorado Corrections Industry (CCI) are involved in the process of milking 1,000 goats two times a day.
Later, regular, non-inmate employees cultivate the cheese at a Haystack Mountain facility. The cheese is then sold at Whole Foods Market outlets and other health stores.
Since the 1970s, prisoners across the nation have been used for the production of goods, ranging from government furniture to food products. Reportedly, more than $2 billion worth of goods comes from the hands of about 63,032 inmates in American prisons, with much of their labor going into making government-based items.
Most recently, inmates are being utilized to produce more specialized items for small businesses. On the list are redwood canoes, specialty motorcycles, fishing poles, and saddles. In the food market, prisoners have been at work making apple juice, raising tilapia, and milking cows and goats. They have also been known to grow flowers and vineyards.
“States like Colorado and California are at the forefront of a growing trend,” said Genevieve LeBaron, a professor at the University of Sheffield in England.
He adds that the prisoners are paid very low wages and could be subject to poor treatment. “It’s hugely concerning in the face of economic instability and unemployment,” LaBaron explained.
“They have land. They have human capital, the equipment. If you can think it up, they can do it, and do it fast,” explained John Scaggs, the marketing and sales director for Haystack Mountain.
“I get one to two calls a week from companies,” CCI director Steve Smith shared, adding that he declines those who are only interested in the benefits of cheap labor. “These are coveted jobs.”
Smith responded to LaBaron’s concerns and assured that prisoners are actually paid quite fairly for their labor. Though most start with 60 cents per day, many begin to earn $300 or $400 a month after incentives kick in. A GED and good standing with their facility over a period of six months is required to be a worker.
Kathy Abernathy, whose Arrowhead Fisheries breeds, packs, and ships tilapia through CCI, says that she believes the program is “a way to help an inmate improve his life.”
According to Smith, “Whether you like it or not, they are still American citizens, and they’ll be your neighbor when they get out.”