It may be hard to imagine prison inmates and ex-offenders involved in the dairy industry. However, in upstate New York, where there are plenty of prisons and cows, a grassroots organization called, Milk Not Jails, began in order to help with prison reform and to help with the state's dairy crisis as the costs of producing milk rose.
Milk Not Jails is a volunteer-run organization that is working on building an alliance with dairy farmers and prisoners of New York. The organization is made up of urban and rural residents, prison justice activists, farmers, artists, formerly incarcerated people, local food enthusiasts, and prison families.
One of the primary goals of Milk Not Jails is to try and end upstate New York's dependency on the prison economy. According to Milk Not Jails, a dysfunctional relationship between urban and rural peoples has prevented improvements to the State’s criminal justice system from being made. And they wish to revitalize and invest in New York's agricultural economy as a model alternative to the prison economy.
" We believe that one important way to fix a dysfunctional prison system that plagues both rural and urban people and spaces is to build grassroots alliances amongst urban and rural communities.
Nearly 90% of all of the prisons in New York state are located in the rural areas and prisons offer employment in a downturned economy. Many of the prisoners are locked up in very rural areas, far from easy contact with family and friends. It has been shown that the more ties to family a prisoner has, the more effective the reduction of recidivism can be. Yet these prisoners are isolated.
In addition, many rural residents have removed themselves from the area to seek employment elsewhere, leaving a hole in the need for workers in the dairy industry.
How does Milk Not Jails work? The first way is to buy with a Milk Not Jails Buying Club. The club joins together to make regular purchases from Milk Not Jails dairy farms. The second way is for Milk Not Jails to sell to local institutions that serve weekly or daily meals, such as in transitional housing or supportive housing.
How do prisons and ex-offenders fit in to this picture? Organizers of Milk Not Jails is working with prison activists to recruits ex-offenders into delivering the dairy products to the buying clubs and institutions involved with Milk Not Jails. In addition, Milk Not Jails puts together social events called, "ice cream socials" where audiences get to eat free ice cream and listen to organizers and advocates lay out their vision of creating a vital economy helping to reduce crime and ultimately incarceration.
In this time of prison growth, costing tax-payers thousands and thousands of dollars to keep prisoners locked up, alternatives to improvement are vital, forward thinking and will in the long run help to reduce recidivism. Milk Not Jails is one of these programs.