Prisons and agriculture are both costly and lucrative industries in New York State. Between 60,000-80,000 farmworkers employ the $5 billion agricultural sector.[1] New York State is the number one producer in the country of cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt and number two in maple syrup, cabbage, apples, milk, grapes and snap peas.[2] 92,000 inmates fill the prisons and jails of New York that cost the state over $3.5 billion per year, that’s $69,355 per inmate per year, which is the most any state in this country spends per inmate.[3] Despite the money that comes from and goes into these systems, the individuals involved: farmworkers and prisoners, are treated less than humanely. To date, farmworkers are excluded from basic labor laws by which every other worker is protected. By law, farmworkers are not permitted to overtime pay, a day of rest, collective bargaining, and host of other rights. Similarly, New York’s prisoners are excluded from civil and political rights to which all citizens are afforded, the ability to vote while incarcerated.  

The undocumented status of many of New York’s farmworkers and the criminal status of New York’s incarcerated population makes these individuals, by law, less than human and exempt from basic rights and protections. The working and living conditions on farms and in prisons are dehumanizing. Narratives from the workers and the incarcerated can humanize these experiences of mistreatment and exploitation, it could depoliticize their statuses, and depict these individuals as the people they are, not the people laws and policies have relegated them to be.

Part of the challenge is that both farmworkers and prisoners are hidden from the public’s eye. This is not accidental. Farms and prisons are located in remote and inaccessible locations, making it difficult to illustrate the human rights violations that are pervasive in both systems. For example, of New York State’s 65 prisons, 55 are in rural areas and 40 are north and/or west of Albany, which is at least a three-hour drive from the city. Meanwhile, 75 percent of people in New York State’s prisons are from seven neighborhoods in New York City.[4] Farms cover nearly one fourth of the New York State’s land area[5], however, New York City residents are often unaware of the industry’s national prominence as a producer of goods and the poor working and living conditions for workers on these farms. The geographical inaccessibility of prisons and farms – including the long and complicated process of visiting a prison – makes communicating the realities of these systems to potential donors, activists and supporters particularly challenging; but, because of that, all the more important.

[1] United States Department of Agriculture 2017 Census. Accessible at:

[2] Office of the State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, “Agriculture in New York State Report”, September 2018. Accessible at:

[3]Huynh, Ngoc. “Report: Cost per Prisoner in New York Tops Other States” 2017. Accessible at:

[4]“Prisons Report” Milk Not Jails. Accessible at:

[5] Office of the State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, “Agriculture in New York State Report”, September 2018. Accessible at: