Policy Agenda

Milk Not Jails is working with criminal justice and food justice groups across New York State to inspire a new urban-rural connection.  The Milk Not Jails Policy Agenda, formed after conversations and correspondence with thousands of criminal justice advocates, farmers, prison families, formerly incarcerated people and rural residents, is a package of policy changes that can transition upstate New York away from its reliance on mass incarceration and toward a viable regional agricultural industry.  Our Policy Agenda includes four criminal justice policies that are unnecessarily costing the state millions of dollars in spending, and four agricultural issues are in desperate need of additional funding.

Until each demand is won, Milk Not Jails will work with other advocates and organizations to ensure our state government listens to the people’s call for fewer prisons and more farms.

RURAL & FARM Demands


Stop Dean Foods’ Monopoly

New York’s Attorney General should launch an anti-trust investigation of Dean Foods, a Texas-based corporation that controls 70 percent of all fluid milk distributed in New England.

In today’s dairy industry, most farmers sell their raw, liquid milk to one or more cooperatives or companies that haul, process, market, and distribute the milk, cheese, butter, and other milk-based products. The price farmers receive is determined by the Federal Milk Marketing Order which sets a minimum price.

Over the past two years, prices paid to farms have plummeted by 41 percent, pushing family dairy farms out of business at a dramatic rate. Meanwhile, the price on the grocery store shelf remains high, and Dean Foods, not farmers, has been reaping the profits.

Dean Foods is the largest dairy processing company in the country which, along with its marketing partner, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), have repeatedly violated anti-trust laws.

They collude to bar independent farmers and small cooperatives access to bottling plants unless they market their products through DFA or its affiliates. Dean Foods also acquires smaller farms to eliminate regional competition.

These actions are violations of anti-trust law, which exists to guarantee market competition and fair market practices for the benefit of producers and consumers. Numerous class action lawsuits have been filed against Dean Foods.

The United States Department of Justice has investigated their practices. However, the decisions made in these efforts have not stopped Dean Food’s monopoly and anti-trust practices.

New York’s Attorney General has yet to investigate Dean Food’s monopoly in New York and its impact on New York’s farmers. Attorney General Schneiderman should investigate Dean Food’s massive share of fluid milk sales in New York, its farm milk procurement, and whether its spectacular profits in the first half of 2009 were unduly gained at the expense of dairy farmers and consumers.

Protect New York’s Farmland

Every three and a half days, New York State loses a farm to suburban sprawl.  As more New Yorkers buy local food we should be supporting local farms, not another housing bubble.

Once land is converted for use by developers, it is difficult to ever restore its agricultural fertility.  If we force cash-strapped farms to sell their farm or keep would-be growers from buying farmland, we make an irrevocable decision that ruins New York’s food capacity.

New York State’s Farmland Protection Program purchases development rights from farmers in order to preserve agricultural land.  Farmers can use the money to pay their bills or to reinvest in farm projects like storm water retention systems or ground water replenishing.

Governor Cuomo has proposed maintaining funding for the program at last year’s level of $12 million.  The legislature should maintain that funding when finalizing the 2012-2013 budget.  The state must also fix the unacceptable backlog of already-approved Farmland Protection Program purchases languishing between the Department of Agriculture and Markets and municipalities

We must all work against the loss of agricultural acreage.

Increase New York Farm Food in Schools

The New York Legislature should pass a law requiring schools to prioritize the purchase of locally produced food.  This would provide nutritious local food daily to over one million students in New York City alone, and also greatly expand direct market opportunities for New York’s farmers.

Legalize the Sale of Raw Milk Products

The New York Legislature should follow the lead of 10 other states and legalize and expand on and off-farm sale of raw milk and other raw milk products.

Large corporate farms and their marketing outfits have expansive processing and distribution systems and drive prices of milk down throughout the country. The industrial dairy lobby has pressured states to keep raw milk sales restricted, drawing on 50-year old data that does not account for agricultural advancements that contribute to a dramatically safer product.

Many consumers want access to raw milk, which is documented to have increased nutrients and immune system boosting properties. Moreover, 80 percent of people who are lactose intolerant are able to consume raw milk.

Meanwhile, industrial, pasteurized milk has been documented to cause allergies, asthma, and heart disease. Many farmers want to produce raw milk and raw milk products on their farms and be able to sell those products at various off-farm markets.

New York State’s current law prohibits farmers from selling raw milk unless the customer comes to the farm to purchase the product. And New York State farmers are prohibited from making butter, cheese, and other products from raw milk.

New York State should pass new safety processing guidelines to make it legal for farmers to sell raw milk and raw milk products on and off their farms.  Vermont recently passed new legislation with strict sanitation and processing guidelines that could easily be adopted in New York State in order to judiciously expand raw milk sales.

By legalizing the retail sale of raw milk and raw milk products both on and off the farm, New York State could support the efforts of small family farms to produce healthy, local products that are in demand by local consumers.

More about CRIMINAL JUSTICE Issues

Pass the SAFE Parole Act

We support the New York State SAFE Parole Act to reform the parole process by changing Executive Law 259-i. The law, which is currently pending in the crime committee of both legislatures, will ensure that parole applicants are fairly evaluated instead of punished with repeated and unjustified parole denials.

Thousands of community-ready men and women in prison are unfairly denied release every year based on the nature of their crime. This legislation requires that parole applicants who have served their minimum sentences be evaluated on their readiness for reentry.

New York State’s current parole system lacks transparency and redress. People are not allowed to view their files, and oftentimes a person’s file includes misinformation or improperly filed documents from another’s folder.

Instead of judging people on the nature of the crime—which can never change—this law would require the Parole Board to spell out individualized requirements for parole. Once those standards have been met, the applicant must be released.

People are often commended by the Parole Board for their exemplary institutional record and preparedness for reentry but are denied release based on the nature of their crime or a victim’s statement about the past crime.

End Racist Marijuana Arrests

In the past decade the New York City Police Department has arrested over 400,000 people on low-level marijuana charges, most of them young blacks and Latinos, despite whites using at higher rates.  The police must stop this harmful, costly, and racist practice now.

The unnecessary flow of people into the criminal justice system for low-level offenses like marijuana possession needlessly strains our state and city budget.  The arrests in 2011 cost over $75 million.

This hasn’t always been the case.  In the 1980s and early 1990s only 45,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession.  With the rise of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” practice, arrests have steadily increased and continue to do so.  These arrests drag our neighbors into a criminal justice system, marks them with an arrest record, and harms their stability and job prospects.

The state legislature should pass the resolution (S.5187 – Grisanti /A.7620 – Jeffries) that reforms, clarifies, and standardizes the charges for marijuana in our state. “This resolution will send a strong message that we must close the loopholes in the law around marijuana enforcement that allow tens of thousands of young people to be criminalized and arrested for low-level offenses each year,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act

From the Coalition for Women Prisoners:

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act allows judges to sentence domestic violence survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered to shorter prison terms and, in some cases, to community-based alternative-to-incarceration programs instead of prison.

It provides survivors currently in prison the opportunity to apply to the courts for resentencing, thereby granting much-deserved relief for incarcerated survivors who pose no threat to public safety.

The bill would also reduce extraneous costs spent on incarceration, reducing the cost per year by $44,000 per person sentenced to an alternative-to-incarceration program.

Close Empty Prison Beds

Due largely to recent economic crises, budget constraints, drug law reform, and falling rates of incarceration over the last ten years, thousands of beds in once filled prisons are now empty.

There are over 14,500 fewer people in prison in the state of New York and the crime rate has fallen 28 percent from ten years ago. Several correctional facilities have closed, and those that remain have countless empty beds which must be staffed and monitored 24 hours a day.

Governor Cuomo closed several facilities last year, amounting to 3800 beds, but there remain many obsolete correctional facilities that are ready to be converted into savings for New York’s taxpayers.

The Governor not only missed the urgent opportunity to close more prisons, but he failed to meet the challenge he so strongly gave himself in his 2011 State of the State Address, “Incarceration is not a jobs program.”  If he had closed just one North County prison, he would have acknowledged the truth of his January speech.

What Cuomo needs to better understand is that farms, not prisons, are our state’s hope.  New York is a place where agriculture and economies can grow.

Closing underused prisons would save taxpayers $52 million per year which could be used for long-term regional economic development.

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