According to the World Health Organization, up to twelve million cases
of head lice are reported each year. School-aged children, between
three and ten, are most likely to get lice. At most schools, kids with
lice are sent home, where the parents are left to deal with the
problem. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson
reports, some lice-fighting experts are trying a new, proactive
The debate over whether prison inmates should work to pull some of their own weight may be as old as prisons, themselves. Housing prisoners is expensive, so prison industries were started in part to recoup some of that cost. Inmate laborers make everything from blue jeans to Mardi Gras beads. And in some states, they might also work down on the farm – the prison farm, that is. In five Great Lakes states (MI, IL, OH, IN, WI) prisoners can be found raising dairy cows, produce, pork, and more. In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson visits one such operation and has this report:
The debate over whether prison inmates should work to pull
some of their own weight may be as old as prisons, themselves.
Housing prisoners is expensive, so prison industries were
started in part to recoup some of that cost. Inmate
laborers make everything from blue jeans to Mardi-gras
beads. And in some states, they might also work down on the
farm – the prison farm, that is.
In five Great Lakes states (Mi, Il, Oh, In, Wi) prisoners can be
found raising dairy cows, produce, pork, and more.
In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Wendy Nelson visits one such operation and has
Near the shores of Lake Superior, in Michigan’s Upper
Peninsula, sits the Marquette Branch Prison.
It’s secured by high concrete walls, razor-ribbon wire, and
Eight gun towers, manned twenty-four-hours a day.
There are about a thousand residents here, and the prison
just got another new arrival.
“We number ’em with a yellow tag, oh-sixteen-seventy-
But oh-sixteen-seventy-one won’t be living in a cell, or
wearing a prison uniform.
That’s because he’s not an inmate.
He’s a new-born calf – the latest addition to the prison’s
Kurt Tuimala oversees the prison’s sixty-four head dairy
operation, housed not far outside the prison fence.
He says it’s pretty much like any other dairy, with one
notable exception – all the workers are prisoners.
They’re assigned jobs like feeder, milker and herdsman.
But Tuimala says they all start out as barnsmen.
(Shovel scrapes cement)
…the guys who clean up after the cows.
(Shoveling up and under)
“Well, they’re not too happy about it, in general, you
know. And it’s the lower wage of the jobs here. But you
know everybody has to start at the bottom, and if they
prove themselves, they move up.”
The Michigan Department of Corrections doesn’t allow
recorded interviews with inmates at the prison.
But prison farm managers say most of the inmates enjoy
farm work. And according to prisoner advocacy groups in
Michigan and Ohio, no inmate complaints have been registered
about the jobs.
(Begin fading out barn sound)
In addition to the diary, there’s also a cattle operation, and
crops are grown to feed the animals. In all, the farm
provides jobs for about fifty minimum-security prisoners.
Michigan Department of Corrections director Bill Martin
says it costs anywhere between $2.15 and $2.40 per day to
feed each of the state’s forty-five thousand inmates.
He says if a cost-effective way can be found for prisoners to
raise more of their own food, the overall cost of feeding
them could be significantly reduced.
“If we can reduce those costs by, say, thirty-cents a
day, that’s millions of dollars so it’s a matter of looking at
what resources we’re given, how best to apply those, and
how do we keep the cost reduced for the taxpayer to
support a system as big as ours.”
Martin estimates the state could save about five-million
dollars a year by stepping up the number of farming
But not everyone’s convinced prison farms can really make a
significant impact for taxpayers.
Bruce Bickle teaches criminal justice at Grand Valley State
“Locking people up costs a lot of money – at thirty-
five, forty-thousand dollars a year, per. The prison
business is really driven, in many ways, by a lot of the public
perception, not the reality.”
But Bickle’s not against prison farms – in fact, he says
generally they’re good programs for keeping prisoners
(Fade in farm sound)
According to Marquette prison officials, about seventy-
percent of the inmates here come from Detroit and
surrounding areas. And farm superintendent Dan
Kolpack says for most, farming is a brand new experience.”
“They’ll walk in, and they’ll see me breeding a cow. Well,
my arm is right in the cow, and they gotta wonder what the
heck I’m doing in there!”
But by the time they’re ready to go free, Kolpack says most
of the inmates have enough experience to go to work on
farms, and a few have done just that.
But Kolpack says the idea really isn’t to train tomorrow’s
farmers. He says the prisoners can learn basic job skills
that they can use on a farm, or in a factory.
Still, critics say inmates should be given jobs that are more
John Cole-Vodicka is director of the prison and jail project
in Americus, Georgia, one of the more active prison farming
“Those are not the jobs that exist in most urban areas,
where most of our prisoner population comes from the
urban centers. While it might be nice to be outdoors
raising crops or tending to livestock is that really
serving the purpose it ought to?”
Marquette prison officials say the diary operation here is
now supplying milk to a total of ten Michigan prisons. And
soon, the diary will begin making ice cream.
The Marquette prison has a long history of farming – dating
back to the late 1800’s. But the farm is only now at a break-
even point with the cost of running the operation.
Even so, Michigan department of corrections director Bill
Martin thinks it’s worth exploring the idea of expanding
prison farms. To that end, he’s ordered feasibility studies at
all forty-two of the state’s prisons.
The results of those studies are expected by the end of this
Year, and depending on the results, the department of
corrections could break ground on new farms as
early as next spring.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson in
The Michigan Department of Corrections is studying the feasibility of expanding its farming operations throughout the state’s prison system. But in many other states around the region, prison systems have closed down or scaled back similar facilities. Since the 1970’s, for instance, Wisconsin trimmed its operations from eleven farms, down to three. And just last year, Pennsylvania got out of the business entirely, shuttingdown all four of its remaining prison farms. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports in the second of a two-part series, prison farms offer some advantages… but some pretty big challenges, as well:
The Michigan Department of Corrections is studying the
feasibility of expanding its farming operations throughout
the state’s prison system.
But in many other states around the region, prison systems
have closed down or scaled back similar facilities.
Since the 1970’s, for instance, Wisconsin trimmed its
operations from eleven farms, down to three. And just last
year, Pennsylvania got out of the business entirely, shutting
down all four of its remaining prison farms.
As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson
reports, prison farms offer some advantages… but some
pretty big challenges, as well.
Every day, the State of Michigan spends about
two-dollars-and-thirty-cents to feed each of its inmates.
That might not sound like a lot, but with forty-five-thousand
inmates, the tally for taxpayers comes to thirty-eight
million dollars a year.
Some states – like Georgia – have reduced these costs
somewhat by operating farms to help feed the prisoners.
And Michigan Department of Corrections director Bill Martin
thinks he can do the same, by expanding the state’s
“That’s always, in my mind, the driving force – how can we
do it better, for less money? Because the taxpayer says,
“look, I’ve only got so much to give, so I’m gonna ask that you
do it the best you can when I give it to you.” And that’s what
drives issues for me.”
And, Martin adds, there are some other practical benefits to
“It keeps another portion of the inmate population busy,
and a busy inmate is one that tends not to be trouble and
tends to be a better person once they’re released.”
About a hundred years ago, most of the country’s prisons
had farming operations – a practice that continued through
much of the 1900’s.
But over the past few decades, many of these farms have
In the early seventies, a governor’s task force in Wisconsin
studied that state’s prison farm system.
“And they came to the conclusion that farms in
corrections were antiquated, they weren’t providing
appropriate training for inmates going back to urban areas.
So they came out with a recommendation that the whole
farming system should be closed.”
Steve Kronzer is director of the Wisconsin Bureau of
He says eventually, a compromise was reached. And today,
the state operates three prison farms.
Kronzer says farms can still play an important role in the
correctional system. He says many prisoners have never
held a job before, and working on a farm teaches basic
employment skills, such as showing up on time and
carrying out assigned tasks.
In Wisconsin and most other states, prison farms only
employ minimum-security inmates, since the farms are
typically outside the secure perimeter of the prisons.
Even so, the issue of security has been cited as a reason to
close many prison farms in recent years.
And the possibility that Michigan may soon set up new farms
is bringing up old memories for the residents of Jackson –
where about fifteen years ago, two inmates walked off a
prison farm, broke into a house, and killed two
“And my mom hollered at me, she’s like, “well, get in the
house, ’cause they just found some people dead.”
“I worked with a lady who lived next door to the people
that were killed. And the people always felt pretty safe,
but I think that changed people’s minds.”
And the murders led to the closing of all of Jackson’s
Michigan Department of Corrections director Bill Martin
vows safety will be a top priority if prison farms expand in
Still, some think the idea could be a hard sell.
“I think the neighbors will have some things to say
about it. Right away the NIMBY thing will hit you right
between the ears, you know, ‘not in my backyard’”.
Bruce Bikle is an assistant professor of criminal justice at
Grand Valley State University.
He says he understands the neighbors’ fears, but in reality,
most escapees are captured without incident.
At the same time Michigan is looking to expand prison farms,
so, too, is Wisconsin. But the states are taking different
Wisconsin’s Steve Kronzer says his state will only expand
profitable operations on existing farms, and he says that
will happen slowly.
Kronzer says he’s skeptical that Michigan will be able to
shave much off the cost of feeding prisoners by creating a
statewide system of new farms.
“Well, you’d have to do your cost benefit analysis. If
you’re spending millions of dollars in taxpayer money to set
’em up, it takes a long time to pay that off.”
For his part, Michigan Department of Corrections Director
Bill Martin says some states have already shown that prison
farms save money. Martin points to the example of Georgia,
where inmates raise about forty-percent of what they eat.
“Georgia has been able to reduce their food costs very
dramatic. When you have forty-five-thousand inmates, if
you’re saving thirty cents a day, that’s a lot of money over a
year’s period of time, plus the other benefits that come with
it, it’s really a no-brainer.”
Cost analysis studies are now underway throughout the
Martin says if the results show that homegrown prison food
can indeed save taxpayer dollars, Michigan will buck the
trend toward closing prison farms, and could lead the way
for other states to do the same.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson.
Around the region, farmers and consumers are joining together to work
toward a new model for food production- one where consumers support
local farmers by buying a share of their harvest. As the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports, community supported agriculture
is about food and a whole lot more:
The idea behind deregulating electric companies was to create
competition and lower customers’ bills. But some environmentalists are
worried that there may be a hidden cost to cheap power – more
pollution. So they’ve created a new tool to help consumers shop for
greener electricity. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson
For urban dwellers, storm water runoff presents one of the biggest challenges to water quality. Contaminants like fertilizers and pesticides, as well as oil and gas from paved surfaces, make their way into storm drains -- and from there can end up polluting rivers and lakes.
Christyl Burnett examines Tim Ball's backyard as part of a home environmental risk assessment. The Home*A*Syst program recently began targeting urban homeowners to help them understand how their actions may affect surface and ground water.
For years, people have been quick to point fingers when it comes to water pollution – blaming factories for discharging waste, developers for causing erosion, and farmers for runoff from pesticides and manure. But it turns out there’s another significant threat to water quality… it comes from homeowners. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:
When you head outside to work in the garden or go for a hike this spring – be careful. Scientists say the risk of getting Lyme disease may be growing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:
For years, scientists have been concerned with the level of pesticides and other pollutants found in fish caught in the wild. But little attention has been paid to the farm-raised fish often used in restaurants, and sold in grocery stores. Now, that’s changing. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:
Livestock farming is big business throughout the Great Lakes region. From chickens to hogs to cows, each year the farm animals produce millions of tons of waste. Now, one farmer is working to spin that manure into gold. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: