Whole Foods Cheese is Made by Prison Inmates

Is inmate labor exploitation or rehabilitation? Good question.

Photo: David Shankbone/ Flickr

Photo: David Shankbone/ Flickr

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]

  • Paddington

    It’s exploitative. They gain skills for jobs that most would not be hired to do outside of prison, especially if they are a person of color. Also, 60 cents is not a fair wage for what amounts to mandatory labor. Especially when that money goes to the commissary for basic needs. The idea that the problem with prisons is a lack of work ethic isn’t true, no serious criminologist would cite this as the issue, so how can you rehabilitate what isn’t impaired?

    • berns

      So you would rather have a prisoner sit around all day doing nothing? Or earn competitive wages? 99% of people are in prison because they BROKE THE LAW. To be frank, who gives a fuck if they get exploited for a little hard work – they BROKE THE LAW. I imagine the victim/friends/relatives/businesses of people that were harmed by their actions when the broke the law would have no problem with this situation, and I know I don’t either. Of all the issues in life that are worth the time energy and effort of trying to fix, this is roughly the bottom of the list.

      • berns

        ps – I said 99% not 100% because I’m sure that there are a very slight number of people who are in prison after being wrongly convicted, but I bet that number is pretty damn small.

      • Paddington

        Lol, you think you have a legitimate opinion. Adorbes! Most people in prison are there for nonviolent offenses, why not come up with alternatives to prison, ones that would make victims whole? Maybe if we had fewer people in prison, that prison labor could be given to other people and said people can be paid a living wage.

        If we must keep them in prison because you uncritically accept the world as is, I’m not sure what the argument for near slavery is. They are bad people so don’t pay them? But allow corporations to profit? I didn’t know being paid fairly for labor provided had a moral element to it. If that’s the case, I assume most CEOs and Board members are assholes and should promptly take a 99% pay cut. I said 99% because I’m sure they provide some value that isn’t just crass exploitation of actual workers. Well, I actually said 99% because I’m making fun of you and only being mildly clever about it.

      • no1uknow1

        you totally miss the point. it’s not about being nice to the prisoners, it’s about being nice to the rest of the labor pool who hasn’t broken the law and would like their jobs to pay minimum wage, only to see those jobs go to prisoner’s who get paid less than 10% of minimum wage. And the competitors of this cheese business who employ LEGAL labor at much higher cost is now losing business because of people like you who admittedly don’t give a FUCK.

      • Grydian

        I would rather those jobs go to people who deserve them.

  • treered

    not enough info. what do goat milkers make on the outside? what’s the likelyhood of any of these inmates becoming goat herders?

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