Enter the busy goat dairy located within Colorado’s prison complex in East Cañon City and you’re reminded that “hope” and “change” are not merely worn political catchphrases; they’re lifelines. Prison inmates who vie for and receive a job at this dairy—or one of the other dairies (for cows and water buffalo) run by the prison—are often profoundly changed by the experience. Given new occupational skills in animal husbandry that range from birthing to managing the milking parlor, these cons can hope for a better future, post-prison.
That’s exactly the aim of this work program, conceived and operated by Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI). “Ninety-seven percent of inmates are going to be released,” explains Steve Smith, director of CCI. “Do we want them to have the tools to be successful, and for them to have vocational credits and a work ethic?” Statistics show that agricultural/animal husbandry programs in particular have a deeply rehabilitative impact on inmates, resulting in much lower recidivism rates. Perhaps it’s because those who do time in the dairy not only learn workplace values but also practice nurturing, compassion, and patience in their relationship with the animals.
At the 1,100 goat dairy, which has been operating since 2008, all of the milk produced goes to Boulder County’s Haystack Mountain goat cheese, over 100 miles north, except for a small amount that goes to supplement Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy in nearby Buena Vista.
The result of the joint venture has been an astounding success, a symbiotic partnership that provides Haystack with a high quality, consistent milk source and inmates such as Juan Figueroa, 33, a new lease on life. Says Figueroa, who works as part of a six-man team in the milking parlor, eight hours a day, “I really enjoy working with animals, especially goats. They’re not dumb, the way a lot of people assume, and I like them because they’re humble.” He recently applied for an apprenticeship in dairy technology.
The correctional facility at East Cañon also operates a water buffalo and cow dairy; the 120 head of Trinidadian buffalo are a new addition, established in May of 2012. Their milk supplies a large mozzarella factory in Denver. The Holstein dairy supplies rBST-free milk for both the prisons and retail market, under the brand name Juniper Valley.
Currently, out of 20,000 inmates in the state, there are only 2,000 CCI jobs available. The application process is rigorous, requiring a high school diploma or GED and a good prison record/program compliancy. The waiting list is a long one.
Thanks to the entrepreneurial savvy of Smith, CCI operates 55 programs, from making exquisite bamboo fishing rods and operating a vineyard and tilapia farm, to training service dogs. All profits from the dairies and other programs go to CCI as capital for start-ups and new equipment. “The inmates generate a lot of the ideas for work programs,” Smith says, “and we encourage them to research the feasibility and come to us with a proposal.” Even in prison, it turns out, there are many ways to create change—and hope.