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Whole Foods to Ban Products Made by Prison Inmates

Accused of exploiting prison inmates by selling food products they worked on, Whole Foods will terminate the process.

Whole Foods Market Inc., based in Austin, Texas, responded to a protest at one of its stores in Houston last weekend, stating that the tilapia, trout, and goat cheese produced through a Colorado inmate program since 2011 will no longer be offered in their stores by April 2016.

Michael Silverman, a Whole Foods spokesman, asserted that the company had collaborated with Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) to “help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society,” according to The Fresno Bee. CCI states that it is designed to train inmates with skills and work ethics so they can find jobs after they are released from jail. CCI’s director, Dennis Dunsmoor, said CCI does not supply goods directly to Whole Foods, but its partners do, acknowledging that the workers in jail who volunteer for the program make between 74 cents to $4 a day, with possible bonuses.

CCI said in 2014 that it employed over 1,800 inmates, and claimed over 80% of inmates with at least six months experience do not return to jail for a year after their release, higher than the national average of 62 percent.

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, expressed skepticism about Whole Foods’ motives, querying, “Are companies doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, or because it’s cheap labor?”

The Houston protest was organized by Michael Allen, a prison reform advocate who charged, “They say they care about the community, but they’re enhancing their profit off of poor people.” He told The Salt, “People are incarcerated and then forced to work for pennies on the dollar — compare that to what the products are sold for.”

Whole Foods sells a goat cheese produced by Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and a tilapia from Quixotic FarmingPacific Standard reported that CCI earns roughly $63 million per year with no taxpayer support.

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