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April 18, 2013

"What if NY invested more in dairy farms and less in prisons?"

Milknotjails4The question in the title of this post is the headline on this story from a public radio station in upstate New York, which is part of "a series on current issues and the future of dairy in the North Country." (In addition to liking the milky pictures that go with this story, I like having new proof that even the price of ice cream and cow-tipping have a link to sentencing law and policy.) Here is how the text with the piece starts:

There are more than a dozen state and Federal prisons in the [North Country] region, along with eleven county jails. That makes corrections work one of our top employers.

One activist group based in Brooklyn thinks these two issues -- prison jobs and the dairy industry -- should be linked in people's minds, as we think about ways to grow the rural economy.  That group's called "Milk Not Jails."...

This whole project, Milk Not Jails, is the brainchild of Lauren Melodia, who lives in Brooklyn and has spent the better part of a decade trying to connect upstate and downstate communities around the question of how their economies interact.  She says she was working in an urban neighborhood trying to raise awareness about food issues, and prisons just kept coming up.

"The community that I was trying to bring fresh food into had very little access to fresh produce," Melodia says.  "And oftentimes we would take bus trips up to the farm where we received our produce from.  And a lot of the people on the bus would say that they'd never been upstate except to visit someone in prison."

Melodia also spent a year in Ogdensburg and Canton, trying to make connections in the North Country that would begin to open a new conversation about how prisons shape lives. "I was in Ogdensburg at the same time that Governor David Paterson was considering closing Ogdensburg Correctional Facility.  And people refer to the Ogdensburg and Riverview correctional facilities as the last factories in town.  That's absolutely real for people."

Lauren Melodia ... thinks New York state should invest more money in dairy farms and agriculture -- and less money locking up prison inmates, especially low-level and non-violent offenders.  "There's all this spin-off economic activity that goes hand-in-hand with agriculture.  You have processing, you have distribution, you have tourism.  We can't say the same thing for prisons.  They don't have that kind of economic growth opportunity."...

"The guards' union and the politicans who represent them oppose major reforms that could make the system work better and prevent people from going to prison in the first place. Why? They're worried that it could create job loss in their community."  That message is a tough sell in communities, like Ogendsburg, that rely on corrections jobs. 

Melodia says Milk Not Jails met yesterday in Albany with the staff of North Country Senator Patty Ritchie.  Melodia says lawmakers are open to the discussion of boosting dairy and agriculture. But talk of closing more prisons? That doesn't go over so well.

"I understand that the crisis at this point is that these are the last factories in town and we can't get rid of them," she says. "What we're trying to do is build some kind of long-term planning in the communities where these prisons are housed so there's not that dependency."

April 18, 2013 at 02:29 PM | Permalink

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Comments

As someone who used to be a cattle rancher I would definitely qualify being sentenced to work on a dairy farm as cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 19, 2013 8:17:43 PM

"What if NY invested more in dairy farms and less in prisons?"

Then NY would get more milk and more crime.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 20, 2013 8:53:23 AM

The death rate increase from coronary artery disease would dwarf the jump in murder rate.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 21, 2013 6:33:51 AM

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