Judge dismisses union lawsuit seeking to halt prison farm sale

Source: Alan Johnson, Columbus Dispatch, September 14, 2016

A Franklin County judge dismissed a state employee union’s lawsuit challenging the closing of state prison farming operations today. Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Holbook decided that the lawsuit by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association is a duplication of an Unfair Labor Practice complaint pending with the State Employee Relations Board. As a result, Holbrook ruled he does not have jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit. The state employees union, which represents 8,600 prison workers among its 30,000 members, went to court in May hoping to block the closing of 10 state prison farms. The union sought a restraining order to halt the sale of livestock, equipment and land used for prison farms for more than 100 years. …

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MANCI auction set for cattle, farm equipment
Source: Lou Whitmire, Mansfield News Journal, July 26, 2016

The beef cattle that graze outside the Mansfield Correctional Institution farm on Ohio 13 and related farm equipment will be sold at auction on Oct. 28 and 29. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections is seeking bids to secure an auctioneer to sell farm equipment and about 415 beef cattle at its Ohio Penal Industries Farm Facility, 1150 N. Main St. According to the state documents, beef farming equipment will be sold at auction on Oct. 28 from the state prison. ODRC’s estimated aggregate value of the farm equipment designated is $550,000 to $750,000. … In April, ODRC announced the state prison farm operated at Mansfield Correctional Institution was among 10 agricultural operations Ohio is shutting down in a move to raise millions of dollars to fund new rehabilitation and job-training programs for inmates through land sales. Earlier, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association officials said the move was announced “without much explanation, rationale or plan” in a conference call to the union. The Mansfield prison operated one of the state’s larger prison operations, with 1,485 acres of farmland, a beef herd of 350 cows and a beef finishing operation of 500 head, it was reported in April. Other affected prisons include Marion (995 acres), Pickaway (1,200 acres), Chillicothe (1,809 acres) and the Southeastern Correctional Complex (578 acres). The acreage figures include both state-owned land and land used through partnerships. …

Ohio seeks bids to sell prison farm beef cattle, farm equipment
Source: Chris Kick, Farm and Dairy, July 25, 2016

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is seeking bids for an auctioneer to sell 415 head of beef cattle and farming equipment, from the Mansfield prison farm. Known as the Mansfield Correctional Institution, it is one of about 10 locations the state announced it will close in an April 12 decision, that calls for the closure and sale of Ohio’s prison farms. Bids to sell the cattle and farm equipment will be opened July 29, according to documents provided by the Ohio Office of Procurement Services. The auction would take place Oct. 28-29, at the Mansfield prison farm. The herd consists of registered Angus cattle, including breeding stock, some which were shown at the Ohio Beef Expo in Columbus. … The corrections department, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are also the center of a Franklin County lawsuit by the state’s labor union, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which alleges that state employees were not afforded their bargaining rights, and that selling the livestock will disrupt their jobs. The decision to sell the farms came at a time when the state was in the finishing stages of a $9 million renovation at two of the farms, which included new dairy and beef facilities, and a new dairy milking parlor. …

Ohio prison system buying milk after selling cows
Source: Chris Kick, Farm & Dairy, June 22, 2016

With its dairy cows now sold, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is buying about $2.6 million in milk to supply its prisons. An existing contract between the state and several Ohio dairy suppliers was expanded in late May to supply about 1.3 million gallons of milk to prison facilities. … The move from milking to buying comes after an April 12 decision by the corrections department to get out of the farming business, and sell most of the prison farm assets, including land and cattle. Selling the land will require legislative approval and is still pending. The department said it could better use the money within prison walls, to provide more meaningful rehabilitation for inmates seeking jobs after being released. The department also cited concerns that the farms were being used by inmates to bring contraband into the prisons.

Ohio prisons need $2.6 million in milk money after selling dairy cows
Source: Alan Johnson, Columbus Dispatch, June 15, 2016

After selling off its dairy herd, Ohio prisons will pay $2.6 million a year to buy milk for 50,000 inmates. An existing state contract with four Ohio dairies was expanded on May 31 to include milk for state prisons, according to records from the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, the business arm of state government. The state needs about 1.3 million gallons of milk annually for inmates. … In the meantime, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has sold about 1,000 dairy cows. Another approximately 2,000 beef cattle are scheduled to be sold this fall. The milk money is needed because of the April 12 decision by the prisons agency to get out of the farm business. The announcement came as a surprise, especially as the department was in the final stages of completing nearly $9 million in improvements to the prison farms. … Some have suggested other possible reasons for the quick turnaround, including potential buyers eager to snap up 7,000 or more acres of farmland at 10 sites across the state. …

Tentative interest in prison farm land surfaces
Source: Chris Balusik, Chillicothe Gazette, May 8, 2016

About 220 inmates work on the farms at the height of the farming season, and Mohr believes the millions of dollars that could be raised through the land sales could end up helping thousands more inmates through job training programs, rehabilitation efforts, transitional housing and rehabilitation services. The sales, expected to result in the end of prison farms by 2017, may face a stumbling block. The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a union with 56 members who work at the farms as farm coordinators and dairy operators, filed a temporary restraining order Thursday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to stop the closure of the 10 prison farms. … Union president Christopher Mabe also doesn’t understand why a prison farm operation that was looking at expansion of facilities in London and Marion to boost meat and dairy production for the prison system is now looking to shut down. …

State to shutter 10 prison farms, sell off land
Source: James Ewinger, The Plain Dealer, April 12, 2016

The state is shutting down its century-old prison-farm system to save money and focus on new rehabilitation programs, according to the Associated Press. Christopher Mabe, president of the 30,000-member Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said in a telephone interview Tuesday the move was political but said it was evident from conversations with state officials that they don’t quite know what they are going to do. The union represents 8,000 employees in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, including more than 50 who work at the 10 prison farms, one of which is at Grafton in Lorain County. … The Columbus Dispatch reported that ODRC plans on eliminating all 10 farms covering 12,500 acres, with 2,300 beef cattle and 1,000 dairy cattle, by the end of the year. The state will continue farming this year but prepare to auction off livestock and stop farming by 2017, prisons director Gary Mohr told The Associated Press. … Prison officials said the state will keep open a 21,000-square-foot meat-processing plant at the Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient, Ohio. The state may partner with a private company to get more business for the plant, according to the Dispatch. However, a milk-processing plant is expected to close.

State to close all 10 prison farms, sell land
Source: Alan Johnson, Columbus Dispatch, April 12, 2016

Mohr said the closings will affect about 70 staff members and 220 inmates during the peak season. They will be moved to different jobs inside the prisons, but no layoffs are planned. State prisons have been in the farming business a very long time, dating back to 1868 when the first farming operation was proposed for the old Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. Prison officials said the reason for shutting down the century-old farm operations is not financial, although the state expects to harvest some revenue by selling 7,000 or more acres of farm land. … The Ohio Civil Services Employees Association, the union representing 30,000 state workers including prison employees, criticized the announcement as being done “without much explanation, rationale or plan.” The union said the closings will affect 56 union members who are farm coordinators.

Ohio shutting down prison farms, selling land
Source: Linda Martz, WKYC, April 12, 2016

State prison management told union officials that most farm production would be phased out by the end of 2016, including raising cattle and crops, as well as beverage and milk processing. The OCSEA said the farms have been in existence for over a hundred years “and have been, for the most part, self-sustaining.” In a press release, the union said the farm programs have also been centerpieces for inmate programming and skill-building, with inmates being taught how to operate heavy machinery, weld, drive large vehicles, repair equipment and use a variety of farm tools. … For years, powerful private food lobbyists, like the meat industry, have been lobbying the Ohio Statehouse in an effort to shut down the prison farms and take over the business, union officials said. … Aramark, Ohio’s private prison food vendor, which has been cited for food spoilage, has said it wants to ditch real milk for powdered milk that won’t spoil, the OCSEA said. Aramark has complained of a contract provision that requires it to purchase milk and beef from Ohio Prison Industries, union officials said.