Inmate farming program may be revived

January 29, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - More than two decades after inmate farming was halted at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown, state officials are considering reviving the program.

The idea is being promoted by a local lawmaker, who has been urging state prison officials to start an experimental agriculture program at the prisons south of Hagerstown.

"If you do it right, I think you can have a lot of benefits," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

The state recently completed a study into reviving a farming program within the prison system. Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is expected to release the results of the report to a House of Delegates committee in the near future.


Farming at the prison complex started in 1935 and once employed more than 100 inmates who maintained a dairy herd, raised hogs and beef cattle, and grew crops such as potatoes and sweet corn on 400 acres.

The farm was phased out for a variety of reasons, including economic feasibility and concerns for the prisoners' civil rights. The dairy operation was shut down in 1968 and the last beef cattle were sold in 1975.

Poole said agriculture programs have grown in popularity in recent years. The idea is to teach the inmates a variety of skills, from business practices to farming itself, which they can take with them after their release.

He said that before any program gets started, a variety of issues, including cost, potential security concerns and which prisons would participate, must be addressed.

Were crops to be sold outside of the prisons, it should be a small amount so that the prisons would not be competing with local farmers.

"I believe the goal should not be, `Can we make money out of this.' I think the goal should be, `Can we get prisoners working,'" Poole said.

Last year, Poole sponsored a bill to start an experimental prisoner farming program. The bill had the support of the entire county delegation in the House of Delegates, but the legislation died in committee. He said there is no need to submit the bill again this year, because the program could be started if it receives the blessings of Robinson and Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"Now it's up to the administration. If they want to do it, they can do it," Poole said.

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