The South Carolina Department of Corrections is making the most of its 10,000 acres of farm land. The farms produce all of the milk, eggs and grits served to inmates at an annual savings of almost $600,000.
The Wateree River Correctional Institution which is the largest of the farms with 7,000 acres, is located near Rembert in Sumter County.
Don Beckwith, warden of the Wateree prison says the system has many benefits, some more than cost savings:
It provides the inmates with a trade. They learn, they can work on equipment. When it breaks down, you have a supervisor who knows how to work on the equipment –they’re sitting there watching him fix it. They can learn as they’re watching and when they get out, they can go work on a farm.
Beckwith says it gives inmates the opportunity to learn a trade and make a little money.
Well, there’s a lot of benefits to it. They get to come outside the fence. Instead of sitting in the cell looking through the fence, looking through the razor ribbon everyday, they get the opportunity to go through the fence, come outside the fence, work in the fresh air, they get earned-work credits. (If) they’ve been in for long enough -I think it was prior to 1995, and they’re disciplinary free, they continue to get their state pay. So they’re making a little bit of money, learning a trade.
Agriculture Branch Chief Bert Dew manages the facility. The farms raise products such as beef cattle that are sold for cash and the money is returned to the farms.
Basically we have 230 cows here at Wateree and we have 162 at Walden, the other farm in Columbia, and we’re going to raise that number up to 400 shortly. We grow a cow, calf operation. When the calf is weaned, we sell them. We take that money and reinvest it back into the farm for operations.
Several state prisons are in the farm business, some have gotten out. Jon Ozmint, Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections says their focus is on efficiency.
We try to evaluate constantly to determine whether this part of our farming operation is being profitable. Every single sector. That’s why eggs and milk, we focus on those things, because they’ve been winners for us. Beef cattle have always been winners for us.
South Carolina spends on average, $15,000 per year per inmate, costs that can’t be matched by other states, according to Ozmint.
We’re willing for you and anybody to compare what we do in any functional area, whether it’s feeding inmates, providing healthcare, moving inmates, whatever it is, you find a prison state system that’s does it any cheaper than we do and we’ll go out an match it. But the fact of the matter is, the reason that nobody does that is that there’s nobody doing it any cheaper than we are.
Ozmint says the farms make a profit in some areas and saves the food services a considerable amount of money by spending only $1.51 per day for food per inmate, which is the lowest amount in the country.
We just want folks to know that we’re mindful the fact that everyone else in country and our state is suffering through a stagnant economy and we’re doing everything we can do to be good stewards of their tax dollars.
Farming was introduced to the prison system in 1877 over the years has saved the state prison system millions of dollars.
The Department of Corrections currently has almost 6,000 employees, 23,000 inmates and operates 28 institutions -what amounts to the eleventh largest city in the state.