Whole Foods shoppers who imagine that their expensive artisanal cheese is made on a quaint rural farm by happy workers may be surprised to discover that the cheese is really made by prison inmates. According to Fortune, Colorado cheese maker Haystack Mountain gets their milk from a goat farm run by Colorado Corrections Industries (CCI), where 1,000 goats are milked by six inmates twice a day. This is becoming a commonplace practice, as “nationwide 63,032 inmates produce more than $2 billion worth of products a year,” according to Forbes.
And it’s not just license plates that are being made in prison. Today, inmates “produce apple juice, raise tilapia, milk cows and goats, grow flowers, and manage vineyards.” CCI pays only 60 cents per hour for the inmates’ labor, although some manage to earn a whopping $3-400 a month. These extremely low wages have drawn fire from many critics who feel that inmates are being exploited by being paid so little to make pricey consumer commodities.
Now, a cheese shopper not only has to consider what kind of cheese they want, but also whether they believe prison labor is giving an inmate a chance to learn some life skills, or exploiting them to make a quick buck.