Gov. Kasich’s budget bill would allow no-bid sale of 6,900 acres of prison farmland

Source: Alan Johnson, Columbus Dispatch, April 29, 2017

The state could sell more than 6,900 acres of prison farmland through “negotiated real-estate purchase agreements” rather than competitive bidding or public auctions under the budget bill pending in the Ohio House.  Language permitting an unusual no-bid process for selling nearly 11 square miles of state land is built into the two-year state budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich’s administration. … The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a labor union representing about 30,000 state employees, including prison workers, said in a statement that the proposed no-bid process for selling the land is “troubling.” The union wants it removed from the budget bill.   “The clear pattern of waiving the rules around competitive state bids is troubling,” said union President Chris Mabe.  “Not only are IT (information technology) contracts part of that pattern, it now appears state farmlands could be sold in a back-door deal with zero competition or transparency. For all we know, whoever lobbied to close the farms could walk away with a huge land deal for a fraction of the value. Either way, taxpayers will be the loser here.” …


An end of an era at prison farm as beef cattle are sold
Source: Lou Whitmire, Mansfield News Journal, October 25, 2016

The beef cattle that graze outside the Mansfield Correctional Institution farm on Ohio 13 were sold Tuesday at auction, ending an era at the prison for inmates raising registered Angus cattle. MANCI cattle manager Bernard Bauer II became emotional, unable to speak for a few seconds as he told the large crowd of farmers who came to bid that he had spent the past 14 years building the registered Angus herd. … The cattle auction Tuesday was held for a complete dispersal of prison’s registered  Angus breeding herd, including registered aged bred cows, registered bred heifers, registered open breeding heifers, commercial open yearling heifers, registered breeding bulls and registered bull calves. This herd had an estimated aggregate value at auction of $535,250. … In April, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections 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. Tuesday, roughly 50 members of the union picketed along Ohio 13 North, outside the farm. The union had sought an injunction from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to halt the sale of prison farm assets until a pending grievance was arbitrated. The court denied the union’s request. A grievance filed by the union regarding the closures is still pending. …

The Day The Last Cows Left Prison
Source: Esther Honig, WOSU, October 25, 2016

As the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections prepares to shut down its farming operations, the final auction of black Angus cattle got underway at the Mansfield Correctional Institution. Some 300 buyers came from around the country. But not everyone is pleased to see the cows off. … As cattle were auctioned off, the union representing the Mansfield prison farm employees – the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association – held a protest outside the prison. They’ve organized protests for the other three cattle auctions held by the ODRC earlier this year. Union president Chris Mabe says 50 ODRC employees will lose their jobs due to the closures. He say the program was beneficial for inmates and the local community. … Products from the prison farms, like milk and vegetables, were used to supplement the diets of Ohio inmates. The farms also donated thousands of pound of vegetables to local food banks. Jo Ellen Smith with the Ohio Corrections Department says the farming program is being phased out to make room for, “more meaningful career training opportunities.” …

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.