Whole Foods shoppers can feel good about buying organic vegetables and sustainably-raised meats, but what about artisanal dairy products using prison inmate labor?

According to Fortune, Colorado goat cheese maker Haystack Mountain employs workers through Colorado Corrections Industries (CCI). Twice a day, six inmates milk 1,000 goats on a prison-run farm. They get a base salary of 60 cents per day but most earn $300-$400 per month. The milk is turned into cheese at a different facility, and then sold in Whole Foods and other retail outlets.


[Photo: Michelle Snow/ Flickr]

“Nationwide 63,032 inmates produce more than $2 billion worth of products a year, most of them sold to government entities,” reports Forbes. But the use of incarcerated workers in small and boutique businesses is a new development, spearheaded by states like California and Colorado. These days, inmates “produce apple juice, raise tilapia, milk cows and goats, grow flowers, and manage vineyards.”

Prison labor is controversial. Supporters view it as rehabilitative, helping inmates to feel productive, develop a positive work ethic, and pick up real-world skills that make them more employable when they are released. Detractors argue that the poor wages are exploitative and that prisoners are vulnerable to mistreatment. Plus, they are potentially taking jobs away from law-abiding citizens.

Free range farms usually specify on their packaging that their animals have freedom of movement; should they also mention if their workers don’t?

[via The Atlantic]