How prisoners milk cows and sell farm products in Germany


By AGENCY
  • People
  • Monday, 04 Dec 2023

An inmate at the Masshalderbuch farm sweeps the yard in front of the organic farm and correctional facility buildings. Photos: Bernd Weißbrod/dpa

In the Swabian Alps south-west of Stuttgart, men milk cows, tend to the birth of a calf and work the soil.

Not unusual for workers on an organic farm – except for one thing: They are all convicted prisoners.

Welcome to the farm branch of the Rottenburg correctional institution in south-west Germany – a place where criminals work the 170ha domain that has been an organic farm since 1987. Some 100ha are grasslands, but the rest produces maize, wheat, spelt, barley, clover grass and potatoes – all of which are sold.

Unlike other prisons, this one has no barbed wire and no fences. However prisoners are carefully screened before they are allowed in and murderers and sex offenders usually don't make the cut.

Instead if you've committed fraud, a drug offence, stolen something or are guilty of assault you might be admitted to the farm.

Currently, 19 prisoners between the ages of 20 and 70 live and work in the open prison system. There they are preparing for their release.

An open prison? You might think that's an invitation for a prisoner to escape, but in fact the state Justice Ministry reports that only 13 people have escaped from the farm since 2006.Geckeler says the farm does not make a profit. Geckeler says the farm does not make a profit.

The prisoners take turns feeding the cattle, milking cows and helping with the birth of calves, according to Gerhard Geckeler, the facility's director.

Some work in the kitchen, others are responsible for cleanliness in the toilets and showers. According to Geckeler, machines are dispensed with as far as possible.

The farm does not make a profit, he said.

"We work optimally, not profitably." According to the most recent calculation by the Justice Ministry, the state has to spend €155.21 (RM791.45) per day per prisoner.

The farm has almost 20 buildings and 240 cattle, including cows, oxens and calves. At Christmas, chickens and ducks are sold.

The prison is located on the public ownership farmstead of Masshalderbuch, which was originally a monastic estate of the Benedictine monastery of Zwiefalten. Since 1954, the state justice administration has used it for the open prison.A prisoner working in the stables of Masshalderbuch farm. A prisoner working in the stables of Masshalderbuch farm.

Visitors are greeted by the cackling of geese at the entrance to the several centuries-old estate. To the right of the entrance is the administration building, to which the prisoners' quarters are attached. Their rooms are on the first floor and in the attic. No one locks the "cells" on the first floor, but this section is kept separate from the one in the attic, where there are also detention rooms.

The prisoners can move freely in their respective sections. They are also allowed to lock their door from the inside. Their work on the yard is paid, and there are three wage levels.

Do prisoners ever argue?

"Sure," says Geckeler. Where people live together, it is not without conflict. For some prisoners it's difficult to live in a shared space. "It's hard for them to empathise," he said.But the prison staff on the yard do not even notice the majority of the conflicts. "Some of them arrive in the morning with paint on their faces. Then we know that something happened during the night."

Geckeler himself is not afraid of being attacked.

"I've been working in prisons for 34 years and I'm convinced that in such a case there would also be someone who would help me."The farmstead of Masshalderbuch is not called the agricultural outpost of the Rottenburg correctional facility without reason, says state Justice Minister Marion Gentges.The farm branch of the Rottenburg correctional institution in south-west Germany is an open working farm with a catch, where the farmers are all prisoners serving sentences for crimes ranging from fraud to assault.  The farm branch of the Rottenburg correctional institution in south-west Germany is an open working farm with a catch, where the farmers are all prisoners serving sentences for crimes ranging from fraud to assault.

Prisoners at the organic farm learn not only about farming but also how to deal with the business side of things "from the first seed to passing it on to the consumer", she says.

Prisoners with addiction issues participate in a special therapeutic concept and benefit from agricultural work as part of their treatment. This is an important part of resocialisation, Gentges says. – dpa


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