Did Ohio’s Prison Farm Sale Net Pennies on the Dollar?
by Matt Clarke
On April 12, 2016, Gary Mohr, the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), announced that the state would phase out farming at 10 prisons. Since then, farm animals and equipment have been sold at auction. But critics say that taxpayers did not get their money’s worth from what was essentially a fire sale. They also question the timing of the phase out, coming hard on the heels a $9 million of farm equipment improvements which were completed in May 2016. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.16].
“Relatively new equipment sold for pennies on the dollar,” said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a union representing state employees, including those at prisons. “Hay was sold at a fraction of its value. The cattle sale didn’t even cover the cost of recent upgrades. And now milk will cost the state about $2.6 million to purchase. Ohio taxpayer got the short end of this deal.
“If DRC had done what it had planned to do and expanded our dairy and beef operation, we could have saved millions for the taxpayer. This has always been a solution looking for a problem.”
Mohr acknowledged the historic value of using farms to provide food for prisoners, but maintained farming was incompatible with the goal of preparing prisoners for post-release life. He also said that farms had become security risks where people could drop off drugs and other contraband which would then be smuggled into the prison by prisoners working on the farms.
“Farming has not been an area where we’re placing people when they go out in the community. We want to focus more on prison enterprises inside the walls,” said Mohr announcing the farm closures. “It makes a lot of sense to me to do this. We owe the taxpayers who are paying our salaries to do the best we con do.”
The sale of the prison farms’ 3,186 dairy cattle netted $4.5 million. Hundreds of pieces of farm equipment were sold. The most expensive one was a juice-processing plant, which went for $128,350. However, neither the state’s Administrative Services, which handled the sales, nor the DRC had the farm animals or equipment appraised, so they cannot say whether the taxpayers were well served by the farm sales or not.