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Editorial: Jail inmate gardens could be positive for inmates, others

By Longview News-Journal
July 27, 2013 at 10 p.m.

A couple of our neighboring counties have come up with a program for their jails that not only serves taxpayers but might make life a little better for inmates.

And maybe it helps teach them something, too.

Prisoners in the Smith County Jail can take part in tending a four-acre garden that grows fresh vegetables of all sorts used to help feed inmates. Vegetables left over - and there are a great many left over - are sent to the East Texas Food Bank as well as other charitable enterprises.

A program in Panola County lets inmates tend a garden that provides fresh vegetables for their own table and to be put up for future use.

The inmates who volunteer for the programs enjoy what they do, because gardening allows them to leave the jail and because growing a garden is producing something useful. After all, they are in jail because they have taken actions that were destructive either to others, society or both. This is the reverse.

Throughout the state, the Texas Food Bank Network told us, there are 12 food banks working in partnership with Texas correctional facility gardens. Nearly half are in larger cities, while others are operating in cities smaller than Longview.

It makes us wonder whether such a project might be feasible at jails in Gregg and other area counties. To do it, of course, some reasonably fertile ground would have to be found that the county either owns or would be allowed to use. Perhaps someone would step up with such an offer.

In Panola County, the garden is behind the detention center. In Smith County, the garden is behind a concrete plant 11 miles from the jail. Most days, about four Smith County inmates get to leave their cells to tend the crops. As many as a dozen help during busy times, and all must earn the privilege through good behavior.

The gardens are among an increasing number of programs aimed at keeping prisoners occupied while teaching them skills. It seems to us any program that can be devised to help inmates move from dysfunctional lives to productive ones has merit, particularly when doing it benefits taxpayers as opposed to costing them money.

Gardening does not exactly teach a skill but tending a garden requires patience, diligence and hard work. The discipline required and successes possible could have a positive impact on inmates' lives.

By working with area food banks, it also could help feed those who are in need.

We believe jail gardens are an idea worth consideration in other East Texas counties, and offer congratulations to the area jails that have established such programs.



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