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The Day The Last Cows Left Prison

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Esther Honig
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WOSU
An auctioneer at Manfield prison auctions off cattle to a crowd of buyers from around the state and the country.

As the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections prepares to shut down its farming operations, the final auction of black Angus cattle got underway at the Mansfield Correctional Institution. Some 300 buyers came from around the country. But not everyone is pleased to see the cows off. 

About 450 cattle were auctioned off, with prices ranging from $1,000 to more than $3,000 per head. The Mansfield prison has maintained a herd here since it opened 26 years ago, and it's built a reputation for cattle with strong genetic traits.

ODRC's Scott Basquin says inmates worked year-round with farm employees to maintain the animals, and they'll be sad to see them go.

"It's a hard time for some of the workers that have worked with the cattle for their careers here," Basquin says. "It definitely is a big change for everybody."

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Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
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WOSU
Workers at the Mansfield prison bring cattle inside to the auction floor.

As cattle were auctioned off, the union representing the Mansfield prison farm employees - the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association - held a protest outside the prison. They've organized protests for the other three cattle auctions held by the ODRC earlier this year.

Union president Chris Mabe says 50 ODRC employees will lose their jobs due to the closures. He say the program was beneficial for inmates and the local community.

"We're here to let the public know that our state farms do more than just dealing with inmate programming and feeding inmates," Mabe says. "We do a lot for food banks around the state."

Products from the prison farms, like milk and vegetables, were used to supplement the diets of Ohio inmates. The farms also donated thousands of pound of vegetables to local food banks.

Jo Ellen Smith with the Ohio Corrections Department says the farming program is being phased out to make room for, "more meaningful career training opportunities." 

"This endeavor is focused on ensuring the agency is more closely aligned with the core mission of reducing recidivism and enhancing the safety and security of our prisons," said Smith. 

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Credit Esther Honig / WOSU
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WOSU
Members of OCSEA and the local community gather outside the prison to protest the closure of the Ohio prison farm program.