|Jail garden program growing
By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
The inmate gardening project at the Montgomery County Regional Jail continues to grow and is now taking root in Jeffersonville, where four acres of vegetables were planted this spring.
Jail inmates planted the first seed last year on a small plot on the jail site. That crop saved the jail about $8,000 in food costs, Jailer Eric Jones said.
This year inmates have planted about an acre at the jail and four acres on city property in Jeffersonville provided at no cost. Others have expressed an interest in providing the jail with land to grow vegetables, Jones said.
He said his goal is to see that all the jail’s vegetables are grown by inmates with the only food expense being meat. He predicts that could occur within the next two years.
In the meantime, Jones expects to save about $80,000 on this year’s food costs.
“It’s a benefit to the inmates, it’s a benefit to the community and a benefit to our budget,” Jones said. “I think this is going to be a huge success.”
Among the vegetables planted this spring were about 900 pounds of potatoes, 450 head of cabbage, more than 100 tomato plants and a couple of acres each of corn and green beans.
The jail has an agreement with its food service provider, KOL, located in Beattyville, to purchase the vegetables grown by the inmates at fair market value.
Any excess produce will be made available to local senior citizens, Jones said.
Inmates must complete a screening process to participate. Screenings are done by Jones, chief deputy Shayne Parker, Lt. Justin Crockett and class D coordinator Justin Bretz.
Inmates are non-violent offenders who are deemed low flight risk, Jones said. Females work at the jail site and males at the Jeffersonville location.
The work crews, which number only a few at a time, are overseen by deputy jailer Kerry Pelfrey, who is also a farmer. Pelfrey donated use of his farming equipment to see that the project is a success, Jones said.
Another deputy jailer, Bruce Daniels, has come in on his time off to assist with the program, he said.
No tax dollars are being spent on the program because the inmates are not paid and deputy jailers who oversee the inmates are paid out of a commissary account because it is an inmate work program.
Inmates do get a reward in that they get out of the confines of the jail for several hours a day and receive the satisfaction of seeing the crops grow from start to finish, Jones said.
“We try to instill in them the virtue of working, making an honest living and seeing their rewards,” he said. “They are also giving back to the community.”
Their crops also provide better food with homegrown produce rather than canned vegetables through the jail kitchen, Jones said.
Jones said he is applying for grants through the state Dept. of Agriculture to further support the program and is seeking that the jail become a Kentucky Proud vendor so it can sell its own produce down the road.
“They’re real supportive,” Jones said of the Dept. of Agriculture. “When I called they were excited about getting on board with us. They like working with our jails on the inmate gardening program. It has become a real success across the state.”
The MCRJ is one of many jails across the country developing gardening programs to stretch their budgets and get inmates involved in community service projects.
For Jones and some members of his staff that has meant learning about agriculture. Farming is all new to Jones.
In preparation, Jones met with Ron Harrington, the jailer in Henderson County, to learn how it operated its gardening program, which is one of the biggest in the state.
Jones has also enlisted the help of Ron Catchen, the county’s extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.
Jones was able to expand the local program after the city of Jeffersonville volunteered use of some its land when city leaders were approached.
Mayor Steven Barnes said he and the city commission were supportive of the idea because it had the excess land available and the fact that the project would save taxpayers money.
The jail provides inmate labor to the city for maintenance of the city park.
Jones said community service is an important element in the jail’s mission to serve the public.
Inmates clean roadways of trash and have been loaned out to many non-profit agencies that often have budget restraints that don’t allow them to hire more employees, Jones said. The jail receives a state PRIDE grant to pay for deputy jailers to oversee road cleanup and provide inmate meals.
Some of the inmates have been hired to work on private mowing and lawn care jobs once they were released, Jones said.
Inmates are also responsible for the beautification project at Olive Hill cemetery.
“It’s a win-win situation because it’s saving tax dollars,” Jones said.