In the Beginning House of Corrections County Farms
In the Beginning House of Corrections County Farms

In the Beginning: House of Corrections / County Farms

by Ryan M. Moore of Madison, ME

In the beginning of the 19th century our country had a primary focus on inmate labor in prison farms; also known as “county farms.” During the first 200 years of county farms the focus was primarily on the punitive aspects of having inmates out in the field tending to crops, livestock and other labor intensive agriculturally based work.

Depending on the prevailing doctrine on the judicial punishment and penal harm, psychological and / or physical cruelty may be a conscious intent of prison farm labor, and not just an inevitable but intended collateral effect (Wikipedia, Prison Farms). It was not only necessary to the overall existence and effective management of the facilities, it was beneficial to the system to have them out working the farms or their own property.

As recently as in the last 40 years some of these doctrines have been best portrayed in movies such as Prison Farm (1938), Gone with the Wind (1939), Brubaker (1980), Shaw Shank Redemption (1994), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), and Civil Brand (2002). Prisoners were also leased or enslaved for Non-Agricultural work. Such as free labor to state entities like the Department of Motor Vehicles to make license plates.

With the changing world climate in regards to human rights, the punitive aspects of prison farms have all but been dissolved into history books and movies. Most correctional facilities now focus strongly on the treatment and rehabilitation of its prisoners rather than “locking them up and throwing away the key.” We aim towards rebuilding the human aspect and the hope to give new skills through corrections based industries.

In the last 20 or so years we’ve experienced a “Go Green” doctrine throughout our society. Everyone is looking to reduce carbon footprints, recycle and make a better tomorrow. The Somerset County Jail in Madison, Maine is on board with this doctrine. Upon opening of the facility back in 2008-09 we started a three acre garden plot with two goals: provide work for community trustee inmates, and to augment the jails food budget with fresh salad vegetables and potatoes. A reserve corrections officer was hired who had extensive experience with farming in Maine. Seeds and seed potatoes were solicited from the community and along with government surplus tractors (former air force equipment) the land was prepared and planted. The land utilized for the garden is in the public eye, right next to a county thoroughfare, and had been under cultivation prior to the jail being built on the site in 2007-2008. Assistance from the local Cooperative agent was solicited and soil testing was performed. The soil needed augmentation via basic fertilizer which was delivered and applied the same day in two iterations so as to minimize storage of hazardous materials on-site. Inmates were selected via classification, not skills and a three inmate work crew was put together. In 2009, the garden resulted in a small savings to the jails food service budget of $400. This has increased steadily to around $2500 in salad vegetables and $3000 of potatoes from a five acre garden.

In the spring of 2013 eight (8) pigs were added to the garden project with the goal to:

  • Provide work for minimum security inmates that due to charges (domestic violence) could not work off of the jail grounds.
  • Improve the exposed mineral soil (sand pit) left over from construction.
  • Utilize the jails waste food on-site rather than put the waste into the county’s waste stream.
  • Augment the jail’s food budget with ground meat.

The jail’s farmer, augmented by security staff on weekends and holidays, supervise an inmate pig farmer for the seven month growing season. The inmate “pig farmer” remained disciplinary free and was able to cut his sentence by two months under Maine’s “2 for 1” law (work two days receive 1 day off of the sentence). The Yorkshire pigs were bought locally and raised in a pig tractor system (movable pig sty) constructed by inmate labor as well.

These pigs were gelded and had received their iron shots prior to purchase. The primary feed for the pigs was waste food from the jail’s kitchen tray waste. This previously had been offered to a local pig farmer with some success. The entire operation was inspected by the local Cooperative agent as well as the state’s FDA inspector. With an original investment in pigs and construction materials of $2400 the resulting 1,235 pounds of ground meat (100% of the meat was turned into unseasoned ground meat) will provide a savings of $1369 over ground beef or turkey.

The use of the pig tractor fertilized one acre of land which will be farmed next season. The project was so successful that the jail purchased an additional eight piglets to raise through the winter of 2014. We’ll see a second shed constructed along with a breeder shed and the piglets will not be gelded.

Somerset Jail Inmates Raising Pigs

by Doug Harlow of the Morning Sentinel

Tucked in a shed on open land behind the jail, the Yorkshire pigs will be raised through the summer to help feed the estimated 165 inmates next winter.

“The idea has been brewing for awhile,” Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster said.

“We’re always looking at ways to reduce costs.”

Lancaster said corrections officer Ryan Moore came up with the idea that would provide meat for the jail population while offering some vocational training and outdoor activity for inmates to discourage recidivism. Four or five inmates will be involved in the program once the pigs start maturing.

The 2013 pigs were slaughtered last week and have been turned into 1,235 lbs. of ground meat packaged without seasoning in 5 lb packages. For those interested the kill hanging weight (gutted only) was 1,550 lbs.

Results of the program are:

  • 2 for 1 job for 1 inmate for 7 months, reducing this inmate’s sentence by 2 months. Note: Inmate Booker remained disciplinary free for the entire time.
  • 2 for 1 job during construction of the pig tractor for 8 inmates for a week.
  • Improved approximately 1 acre of land from mineral soil condition to farmable land.
  • Resulted in a savings to the jail’s food budget of $1,369.00
  • Costs of project including: building the pig tractor, pig purchase, feed augmentations, hay, electric fence, troughs, barrels, buckets, etc., and slaughter of pigs: $2,397.75.
  • Gains using ground pork in lieu of other ground meats: $3,766.75.