Farm Aid for the Big House

Jack Norton and Jacob Kang-Brown:

RRural communities are in the midst of a quiet jail boom, financed in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Over the last two decades, the USDA has been funding jail construction through a program designed to finance infrastructure like emergency services, hospitals, fire stations, and community centers in agricultural areas. But these funds are now increasingly being directed to helping some rural counties build new, expanded jails, and helping others stay in the business of immigrant detention.

This past summer, the Trump administration announced that the USDA would give farmers up to $12 billion around harvest time to insulate them from the effects of the administration’s trade wars. At the same time, according to public records, the Trump administration also increased USDA investment in jail construction. Over the past four decades, and in the context of increasing inequality and economic decline in rural areas, the construction and expansion of the infrastructure of incarceration has been justified in terms of rural development. That the USDA is funding jails shows just how insidious this idea has become in terms of federal policy.

In upstate New York, Greene County is going forward with a $39 million low-interest loan application to the USDA to build a massive new jail that many in the community simply do not want. And, in Baker County, Florida, a USDA refinancing loan is essentially bailing out investors in a large, county-run jail and immigrant detention center.