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Alabama Ends Prison Farming Operations

Citing lack of profit, the Alabama Correctional Industries (ACI) ended its farming operations; ACI was formalized in 1976 with the “Prison-Made Goods Act.” It had been unprofitable for years leading up to the restructuring announced in 2007.

“I want ACI to be a profit center, not just a way to keep people occupied and keep people busy,” said Prisoners Commissioners Richard Allen. “The challenge was how to make it profitable so it would throw off income to the department, which we can then use to offset the cost of incarceration.”

ACI had more than two dozen entities, including manufacturing operations, four service enterprises, five farms, three fleet maintenance facilities, and a central warehouse and distribution facility. It manufactures furniture, mattresses chemicals, and uniforms.

All of the farms are to close. “We will not be doing any more commercial type operations where we’re trying to grow things to sell to the open market,” said Allen. “We’ve got some crops in the field now, but this [2007] will be the last year we’ll do that.”

ACI plans to sell nearly 6,000 acres of farm lands for $23.8 million to use towards a planned $90 million in capital improvements.

Profit-driven prison industries is “A complicated issue,” said Pamela Oliver, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But it’s good--especially if [prisoners] have any hope in having skills that will help them rehabilitate. On the other hand, sometimes the more you focus on profits, the more it starts looking like slave labor. Those are the issues I think people should think about.”

ACI’s focus was clear. “It’s going to be profitable; that’s the new No. 1,” said ACI director Andy Farquhar.

Source: Associated Press

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