October 27, 2009
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Contact: Public Affairs Office
At Putnam C.I., minimum custody inmates are getting the chance of a lifetime. The recently re-activated 15 acre farm program uses the institution’s existing resources to give inmates training and experience in agriculture that will carry over into their re-entry.
When Paul Decker arrived at Putnam C.I. as the newly-appointed warden earlier this year, he saw a lot of potential. “Farming is the big business in this area. It’s what people do. Most of our inmates are going to be staying in this area when they’re released.” By training inmates in agriculture, Decker and his staff are helping inmates become members of the local community upon release, instead of threats to it.
At Putnam, inmates involved in the farm program are responsible for everything from planting the crops, to repairing the field machinery, weeding the field, mixing the chemicals and pesticides, and harvesting the crops, not to mention cleaning and cooking what they grow. “We’re not self-sustaining, but the crops definitely off-set our food costs while increasing our food quality.”
The institution grows corn, watermelon, greens, Chinese cabbage, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers and a number of legumes. The program is also year-round. Chinese cabbage will be breaching the soil shortly and regular cabbage is scheduled for planting soon.
It’s All About Re-Entry
Since his arrival, Decker has worked with Arnold Mitchell, Maintenance Supervisor at Putnam C.I. and a part-time farmer, who has been certified as an instructor in mixing agricultural chemicals and pesticides. Mitchell’s certification means he can teach and certify the inmates in chemical and pesticide management. According to Decker, this is a huge accomplishment for inmates, because it doesn’t just give them experience, it gives them documentation they can use to gain employment.
Another farming tool inmates learn to operate is the greenhouse, which is used to produce seedlings that can be planted at Putnam, or any number of other farm programs.
Another area Putnam C.I. is excited about rejuvenating is its one-acre orange grove. The trees are older, but in the next year or so the program expects to have some production. In South Florida, citrus is big business, and the training inmates receive with the institution’s grove will go a long way toward their successful re-entry. The fruit too will help offset costs.
Three years after release, 32.8% of Florida’s inmates return to our prisons. Assistant Secretary of Re-Entry Fran Barber says, “This is a fantastic initiative. The inmates are saving taxpayer money by using the skills we teach them to restore the farm program at Putnam. But that’s only half the battle. What they have to do next is use those skills to restore themselves in the community. That’s what Re-Entry is all about.”