Good News for Taxpayers – Thanks to Agriculture
Last Sunday I spent the afternoon with members of the Ohio Angus Association for their annual Fall Field Day. While spending an afternoon with cattlemen is always an enjoyable experience, the highlight of my day wasn’t the camaraderie with fellow cowhands, nor observing the enthusiasm and ambition of the outstanding young people in the Junior Angus Association, but rather from touring the farm operated by the Mansfield Correctional Institute. This particular field day was hosted by the Warden and Farm Manager at MANCI, an impressive operation by any standard, and one that is helping taxpayers by teaching the inmates responsibility, trade skills, and by helping the Department of Corrections to be food service self-sufficient.
The farm itself is a basic beef cattle operation with a cow/calf component and feedlot. The Institute runs roughly 320 head of Angus cows bred progressively with input from Select Sires. The intact male calves and a small percentage of heifer calves are placed in the feedlot, which has capacity for nearly 400 head. The bulk of the females are either retained in the herd as replacements, or otherwise transferred with the Correctional Farm System to be used at one of the Department’s other farm operations.
Farm manager Tom Cowell has done an excellent job of building a herd that is productive, efficient, and well managed. These cattle can perform in every sense of the word, and the handling facilities look extremely friendly for both man and beast. My expectations as a cattleman were clearly exceeded.
Along with the beef facilities, the farm consists of roughly 1500 acres of cropping operations, a program which is a vital component of the feeding program. The MANCI farm produces its own feed and forage needs, allowing the overall system to be relatively in balance. Obviously some inputs are purchased, and some production is sold on the market, but for the most part, Cowell & company produce their own feed needs.
Cowell also pointed out in our discussion that between 50 and 60 inmates are employed in the Mansfield farming operations. Responsibilities include not only the management of the beef cattle segment of the program, but also in planting, management, and harvest of the cropping operations. Offenders learn and operate machinery throughout the crop cycle, as well as receive an education on the principles of raising cash and feed crops in Ohio.
While the operation itself is fascinating, well designed, and well operated, it isn’t the most impressive part of the story. Neither are the grounds alone, even with the 70-year-old brick dairy barn with the old reformatory (made famous in the classic movie The Shawshank Redemption) sitting just atop the next hill, though the view is certainly noteworthy. The revelation of the day that stood out most in my mind is something that Cowell said toward the end of our interview: “It costs about a dollar a day to feed the inmates here.”
I don’t know how that statistic holds up across the rest of the Correctional system in Ohio, but as a concerned taxpayer I was extremely impressed with that particular piece of data. Mansfield, as I mentioned, isn’t the only farm in the system. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Farm Operations include 10,750 acres of ground at ten prison locations and two Ohio Penal Industries shops including both dairy and meat processing. Farm Operations include dairy, beef, and swine, as well as corn, soybean, wheat and hay crops. The Farm Operations produce raw milk, cattle and hogs for the processing facilities to use in the DRC Food Service system.
Holstein dairy cattle are located at five farm sites and provide over 1.6 million gallons of raw milk for the Beverage Processing Center to homogenize, pasteurize and package for the offender population. Dairy farms raise their own replacement animals as do the beef operations. DRC Farms have over 1,000 beef cows that calve each year. Harvest cattle are scheduled into the Meat Processing Career Center in Pickaway County.
There are five swine operations. Two locations are used for farrowing pigs. The pigs are kept to 50 pounds then they are moved to three DRC swine facilities. Hogs are processed at the meat center when they reach 280 pounds. All farm locations have crops and pasture to support the livestock enterprise at that facility, as I described for the Mansfield location.
Offenders employed at the milk processing facility aren’t just learning a simple skill. In addition to their work schedule, they are also enrolled in a series of classes through The Ohio State University, which cover areas such as general food processing and specifics in milk and dairy processing. OSU personnel at the facility teach these classes. Offenders receive transferable college credit upon successful completion of each class. Offenders employed at the meat processing facility also receive hands-on training that provides marketable skills leading to employment opportunities in the meat processing industry upon release. These offenders are also trained and educated by OSU meat science professionals.
Along with teaching offenders marketable skills that might help them be more productive upon return to the civilian population, these operations serve an equally important duty to the taxpayer: fiscal responsibility! The Department saves in excess of $1.9 million per year over the cost of contract purchase by utilizing the system’s own dairy products and over $3 million over the typical shelf cost of milk at commercial stores. Those savings, along with similar savings from the meat processing operations, lead to Cowell and his colleagues being able to share with me the astoundingly low cost of feeding the offender population in our state facilities.
Those of us who grew up on a farm have long known the value of an agricultural education and work experience. The values, responsibilities, and work ethic learned in the barn and field make productive citizens. Those of my father’s generation and his father’s generation have long observed that as more Americans grow more removed from the farming way of life, the farther removed it seems they become from those earned and learned responsibilities and sensibilities. By using agriculture as a tool and opportunity, perhaps the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections is able to return those values to a group of citizens who need them most, all while providing the taxpayer with some much needed savings.