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VCC farm bid deadline is Friday

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The Illinois Department of Corrections should know by the end of this week who will be working the farmground at Vandalia Correctional Center. For the first time in the history of VCC, it wont be inmates and state workers.

Over the objections of state legislators, including state Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville), IDOC has decided to lease the farmground at VCC and cease the dairy operations at the local prison.

IDOC spokesman Derek Schnapp said on Wednesday that the agency is accepting through Friday afternoon bids from local farmers interested in leasing the VCC ground. Despite some media reports on Wednesday, the agency is not selling the farmland.

The agency is also proceeding with the sale of about 315 head of dairy cattle, Schnapp said.

The farming operations, which were started in 1977, are being discontinued due to the high costs of keeping it going, he said.

It has been losing money for several years, and this is something that weve talked about doing for years, Schnapp said. It did make a profit at one time; its not anymore.

The staff for the farming operations has included two IDOC employees and up to 30 inmates. The agency will work at relocating those individuals, particularly the two employees, in other VCC industries positions, Schnapp said.

Since it was learned at the beginning of this year that the agency planned to shut down the farming operations, Watson has led state legislators in an effort to prevent that from happening.

Watson, who was unavailable for comment on Wednesday morning, said in recent months that he has been unable to obtain from IDOC anything to support the agencys claims that ceasing the farming operations at VCC will result in a savings of about $400,000.

Watson has repeatedly contended that the agency should be seeing a profit with the operations, because of the current crop and dairy products prices.

He has also sought to get the agency to reverse its decision on the contention that one reason for operating the farm is that it teaches inmates skills that they can use upon being released from prison.

Teaching those skills, Watson said, helps to reduce the chances of those inmates returning to the prison system.