The Texas Department of Criminal Justice leased a ranch for about $750,000 per year, despite budget cuts that forced the prison system to sell off some of its richest farmland to real estate developers and to shut down nine farming operations on land the system still owns, reports the Houston Chronicle. Now, caught between a shrinking budget and an expanding prison population, officials are trying to determine whether it is cheaper to grow and prepare groceries or to order them table-ready from an outside company. It adds up to an uncertain future for the prison farm system.
The inmates receive no pay for their labor, but the prison system must factor in the number of guards needed to watch 23,000 inmates grow food for prison tables, grain for the extensive livestock operations and cotton that inmates make into dry goods. A guard shortage has cut the number of inmates who can work at one time. Historically, state-owned prison farms have provided much of the food for the sytem’s 150,000 inmates. In a yearlong test under way at the 1,166-bed Hamilton Unit in Bryan, food-industry giant Aramark is providing meals at a daily cost of $2.43 per prisoner.