'Milk Not Jails' proposes alternative recipe for Upstate economy

Folks from Milk Not Jails prepping their ride last summer. From @MilkNotJails twitter feed on 6/1/12.

New York has always bred odd bedfellows, the result of one state containing both one of the biggest, richest cities in the world and some of the tiniest, rural towns.

Some 40 years ago, state leaders who gave birth to the Rockefeller drug laws partnered with small town leaders in Upstate New York. They built dozens of prisons in places like Ogdensburg, Malone, and the Adirondacks, creating jobs in those places while providing jail space for all those low-level drug offenders swept up in the new tough-on-crime reality.

This week, prison reform activists from New York City are lobbying in Albany to make a connection with a different group of small town folks. The group Milk Not Jails is reaching out to Upstate's dairy farms as an economic development alternative to prisons:

We are a dairy marketing and distribution co-operative and we are a political campaign building an alliance for a sustainable and just regional economy.  We are building a regional economy that depends on bringing city residents local, healthy food, not locking them up.

We know that imprisonment hurts communities.  Increased incarceration undermines local networks, increases crime and juvenile delinquency, and causes a decrease in everything from public health to housing values to political participation.  And we know that dairy farms need help from consumers and policy-makers to succeed.

The group has a fun and funky approach, as you can see from their video below.

I wonder if it's an approach that will resonate with often conservative dairy farmers. I also wonder if their idea – replace prison jobs with farm jobs – is practical. Do corrections officers have what it takes, or even want, to milk the cows or spread manure from the tractor?

As a part of our series this week exploring the latest trends in the North Country and Upstate New York dairy industry, Brian Mann will have a story about Milk Not Jails. Tune in tomorrow morning or check out the series page online.

Here's that video:

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  1. Not to generalize, but I know many Correction Officers, some employed at minimum security prisons. They're mostly forthright and honest about their duties and freely will admit they're jobs are boring and require very little physical exertion. Medium and Maximum are much different of course (relatively speaking). Does anyone really believe the former group above would give up a 50-80K a year plus benefits gig for a physically demanding farm job that pays a pittance of that?

    The better approach would be to offer to train those CO's interested in becoming substance abuse counselors, mental health therapists, and probation officers. Positions that would be in higher demand if we treated the drug problem, which drives the prison population, as a health care issue instead of a crime issue. But alas, Little Cuomo and Skelos will have none of it.

  2. To second EVH's remarks, it's very hard to equate a (by NNY standards) well-paid job with health insurance and a defined benefit pension with a lower paid job with fewer or no fringe benefits.

  3. Taking part in a corrupt, racist, and destructive system, even if you need the job, is morally indefensible. Those prison jobs aren't good jobs. They're awful jobs with good pay, and there's a difference.