Cincinnati Public School Employees AFSCME Local 232 members recently joined in solidarity with OCSEA/AFSCME members who are continuing their struggle to stop the liquidation of prison farms at 10 correctional facilities across Ohio.
AFSCME Local 232 member/activists Shelby Givens-Blackmon, and Carolyn Park, along with Ohio Council 8 Staff Rep. Andrew Hasty, joined other unions at the Lebanon Correctional Facility’s prison farm just north of Cincinnati.
They joined an informational picket-line along the side of highly traveled State Route 63, a two lane highway near the prison.
The following is a report by Carolyn Park:
As cars and tractor/trailers drove by, we held signs and spoke with other members and supporters; including Cincinnati AFL CIO representatives and even Cincinnati Federation of Teachers members who were in attendance.
We learned about a great number of the issues. We were there to help EXPOSE and STOP The Great Land Grab. It seems that out of nowhere, The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) decided to close all 10 Ohio prison farms.
This decision comes on the heels of a plan to expand cattle and dairy production. In fact, last year, DRC Director Gary Mohr asked the Ohio State Legislature for $9 million dollars to build three state of the art cattle and dairy barns.
So why the sudden the change of heart? These projects are all but complete and the DRC is making more milk and harvesting more beef than it ever has before.
So with long-term plans in place and millions of tax payer dollars spent on improvements, now they want to “chuck” the entire plan? It didn’t seem to make sense to any of us out there on that informational picket line.
Could it be there is outside pressure to close prison farms from corporate food suppliers, like Aramark, and corporate mega-farms, as well as the powerful beef industry lobbyists? This selling-off of valuable livestock, farming equipment, and in the near future the land itself, clearly looks like a giveaway to powerful financial interests.
The livestock and farm equipment is not being bought by many local producers. Representatives of the same corporate groups, have shown up time and again at each farm auction across our state, to cart away their spoils.
Why is it important to keep these facilities open? The farm programs do in fact serve DRC’s core mission. Farm jobs give inmates more responsibility and help them develop a strong work ethic. They are taught all kinds of skills, from heavy machinery to equipment maintenance, to carpentry, to welding to using hand tools, driving tractors and loaders and large vehicles, you name it.
This is a perfect case of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
The struggle isn’t only about the loss of OCSEA member jobs or the hundreds and thousands of inmates who have participated in the farm programs. It’s about all the stakeholders that will be affected by the farm closures.
Did you know the OSU Veterinary Medicine program teaches students at prison farms? Or that Ohio’s food banks receive hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce each year from the prison farms? Or the move will hurt the local economy as farm equipment suppliers, who have been providing goods and services to prison farms for years, close up? All of those programs and relationships are now in jeopardy.
Shelby and I are glad we took the time to show support, not only as union members, but because we are also taxpayers in Ohio.
We do not like to see our tax dollars squandered and our communities harmed in giveaways to corporations. We want our voices to be heard!