by Bonnie Mansfield

A growing trend in our nation today is the creation of farms operated by state prisons with the labor being provided by incarcerated men and women. Many articles have been written that advocate for these programs because they provide both a way to change the behavior of the inmates by giving them a place to heal and teaching them new skills that they can take with them to help build a crime free career after their release. However, the current movement to support the implementation of prison farms as a means of rehabilitation is not sustained by the recidivism rates. Our nation needs to move away from the “feel good” concept of treatment and develop their program that will save taxpayers money. The Department of Corrections in Georgia has been operating prison farms since the 1930’s with the dual purpose of continuing cost reduction within the department and providing programs that keep the inmates productive. The vision of the State of Georgia regarding prison farms is valuable in that the focus was not solely on treatment; and the state is reaping the benefits of having an agriculture industry within the Department of Corrections that reduces the high cost of housing prisoners. Georgia got it right and other states should follow their lead to help reduce their budget.

Several states have started to implement prison gardens; however, their emphasis leans toward rehabilitation for the inmates instead of helping reduce their state budgets within the correctional facilities. An article written by Beth Boots in Organic Gardening informs us about the prison gardens at Chicago’s Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp in Chicago, Illinois. In her article Boots explains that this garden is managed by the Chicago Botanic Garden and is intended for inmates who plead guilty to non-violent offense. However, the guidelines are not being met because violent offenders are getting to participate in the gardens. Two of the three inmates mentioned in this article are incarcerated for murder and burglary, which are violent offenses. Also, in Chicago, only one-third of the produce goes to the prison system for consumption by inmates while the rest is donated to local charity. Prison gardens for the sole purpose of rehabilitation are not the answer because there is no valid evidence to support that inmates who participate in the programs are changing their lives for the better. Further investigation revealed that two of the inmates quoted in this article asserting that they were receiving a valuable education by learning a trade, as well as gaining inner peace that gardening brought them, were rearrested within months of their discharge from prison. Walter Ford, an inmate at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office sentenced for the offense of dealing drugs, states in the article, “It’s tranquil in gardens”, (Boots) and he is credited with having received a certificate in urban agriculture that he plans to use after he is released by “growing things and feeding people” (Boots). In fact, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections website, Ford was subsequently rearrested and returned to prison on new drug charges stemming after his release shortly after this article was published (Illinois Department of Corrections). The focus on having inmates in the garden needs to be discipline and part of the work system of the prison rather than therapy for the inmates. Equally important the lesson needs to expand to teach the inmates that they have a responsibility of providing for themselves and to demand a schedule with them going to work daily.

Kansas is broadening the programs inside their penal institutions to include a prison garden at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility that the inmates refer to as “The Garden of Good” (Hanks). Kathy Hanks, in her article A Growing Opportunity reported that the inmates who help start up the “Garden of Good” overcame severe weather conditions such as drought and record-breaking heat to ensure that their garden grew (Hanks). The inmates did not even have garden hoses and had to carry buckets of water to water the plants. Her article asserts that the behavior exhibited by these prisoners shows their commitment to making the garden grow, but again the food went to charities, such as the food bank at the Salvation Army (Hanks). In this article, inmate Gary Robbins stated that “the day he walks away from the Hutchinson Facility a free man, the one thing he’ll miss will be the Garden of Good”. What the article fails to mention is that according to the Kansas Department of Corrections, Gary Robbins is incarcerated for the offenses of Aggravated Robbery, Burglary, Rape, Aggravated Sodomy, and Indecent Liberties with a child. He should not be allowed to work in the prison gardens under these lax conditions due to the seriousness of the charges he committed as this may be a recipe for disaster (Kansas Department of Corrections). An emphasis needs to be placed on issues of security because these workers are prisoners first and the gardens in Kansas are supervised by volunteers, not correctional officers. Any skills that the inmates learn through this type of program may be valuable to them upon release, but security of these inmates should be the priority to ensure society remains safe. Nevertheless, this is not to say that violent offenders should not be allowed to work in the garden for the benefit of growing vegetables to put food on “their” table. However, it needs to be recognized that they are inmates, not patients in a rehabilitation program. Again, the concept of prison gardens should be designed to save money for the states instead of just therapy for inmates.

Similarly, Oregon prisons have partnered with the non-profit organization, Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation (Patterson) to develop a program within the prison walls that allows the use of inmate labor to grow gardens with the proceeds going to charities. Inmates at the Oregon prisons can earn a Certificate of Home Horticulture (Patterson). After release, the inmates can register with the Oregon State University to complete the volunteer hours necessary to receive their master gardener certification, enabling them to apply for jobs at a vast number of nursery, farm, and winery industries (Patterson). This program is sponsored by volunteers, but is under the Oregon Department of Corrections policies and procedures. For example, the prison regulates the types of vegetables that can be harvest under the care of the inmates and it is this type of logic that takes into consideration the necessary steps of security to make sure that the inmates do not escape. The procedure ensures that items such as corn and zucchini cannot be planted because the inmates “could hide behind or lie under the leaves” (Patterson). Under this partnership not only charities benefit, but also taxpayers, as Oregon uses the prison gardens for consumption by the inmates. This type of program allows the prisons to provide fresh food for the inmates to eat. All in all, Oregon is on the right track. However, they need to consider alternatives to dealing with the vegetable surpluses like canning or preserving the vegetables to provide additional funds to the Department of Corrections.

In Georgia, the Department of Corrections has used prison farms since the 1930’s and has over 14,000 acre farms throughout the state (Wakeen). Georgia operates it prison farms as an industry overseeing the canning, slaughtering, and processing of fresh vegetables, meat, and milk (Wakeen). Georgia also operates a grits mill that produces 100 percent of their facilities grits and cornmeal needs. According to Norman Wilson, director of Food and Farms Services, forty-five percent of the food consumed by Georgia’s inmate population is grown on their farms (Wakeen). Not only does this concept allow food for inmate consumption, it takes it to the next level by using the surplus of vegetables to fund the Georgia Department of Corrections. Budget cuts are abundant in Georgia and this type of industry within the Department helps to offset any deficits.

Terry Duffey, retired from the Georgia Department of Corrections after twenty-seven years of service, was instrumental in explaining the operations of the Georgia Department of Corrections Farms and Food Division. Duffey stated that approximately 5000 inmates work in this division, including farming, operating machines in the canning plant, meat processing plants, milk processing plant and warehousing operations. This division includes a grist mill too. In Georgia, working in this division is not optional and all inmates are required to work while they are incarcerated. Inmates are not paid nor do they receive any credited time off their sentences for working within the department (Duffey). The duties of the inmates are ultimately decided by the wardens, however, job skills are considered when deciding what job best suits the prisoners.

Additionally, feeding the prisoners while they are locked up does not allow for the State of Georgia to just give any type of food to the inmates (Duffey). There are guidelines that must be met that provide a nutritional meal to the inmates with a certain calorie intake per meal, per day. The Department of Corrections must also meet the diet of inmates that have special needs, such as diabetes or heart conditions that require a special diet. Duffey stated that the State of Georgia can feed an inmate daily for the approximate cost of $1.50 per day by having prison farms as well as the hog and cattle farms. Even during the tough times of budget cuts within the state, “gardens grow” (Duffey).

Duffey further stated that the education programs that are offered by the state are not just in the food division and that many other programs are offered to better meet the needs of the inmates in helping them get the necessary training to obtain employment upon release. However, he stated that the “basic skills are being taught when the prisoner is expected to get up in the morning to go to work” (Duffey) and he feels that this helps teach responsibility that can be used during any aspect of someone’s life. The program has grown vastly throughout the years and the Department of Corrections transferred the Farm and Food Services to the Georgia Correctional Industries in 2009 to maintain the daily operations and administration, which allows the Department of Corrections to focus on their mission of providing security (Duffey).

We need to remember that inmates are in prison because of a crime that they committed and no one forced them to commit a crime. Therefore, prison gardens should be part of the Department of Corrections in order to reduce the food costs incurred by the prison system. As an employee of the State of Georgia who has endured over twenty-four days of being furloughed, not to mention the rising cost of health insurance, it makes perfect sense for the state of Georgia to maintain a rigid budget in all departments. All individuals should work to take care of themselves and just because you are in prison does not prevent you from taking part in provide for your own welfare.
While the movements of farms within the prison system are gaining popularity in America utilizing the labor of inmates, we still have a long way to go toward making the gardens work for budgetary purposes. In the long run, prison gardens have the potential to drastically reduce the growing cost of housing prisoners. And by the same token, the prison gardens can be beneficial to inmates in learning a trade and hopefully can bring peace and tranquility to inmates that will help them upon release from prison.

Work Cited

Boots, Beth. “HARVEST OF HOPE.” Organic Gardening 59.3 (2012): 50-55. Alt. HealthWatch. Web 2 Oct. 2013.

Duffey, Terry. Personal Interview. 17 Oct. 2013.

Hanks, Kathy. “Prison project a growing opportunity.” Hutchinson News, The (KS) 20 July 2013: Newspaper Source. Web 2 Oct. 2013.

Inmate Search. Illinois Department of Corrections. Web 1 Nov. 2013.

Inmate Search. Kansas Department of Corrections. Web 1 Nov. 2013.

Patterson, Sarah. “Gardens Promote Sustainability And Growth in Oregon Prisons.” Corrections Today 75.1 (2013): 36-39. MasterFILE Elite. Web 30 Sept. 2013.

Wakeen, Barbara. “Good Nutrition from the ground up.” ACFSA Insider. Fall 2007. Web 30 Sept. 2013.