Dallas County Wants to Start a Garden at the Jail, Complete with Butterflies

Prison gardens have become something of a thing in recent years, sprouting in California, then taking root in an increasing number of jails and penitentiaries across the country. The benefits claimed by gardening advocates are numerous: reduced recidivism rates; skills that are transferable to life on the outside; food costs drop if the produce is used in the institution's kitchen; hardened criminals are inculcated with an obnoxiously self-righteous preference for organic food.

The movement has finally made its way to Dallas County. Commissioners will hear Tuesday about plans to establish an organic garden to serve inmates enrolled in a gardening and landscaping course.

I have a call into the county for more information, but some details are provided in Tuesday's agenda. The county would be teaming up with Oak Cliff Organics, which would plant a butterfly garden in one rectangular planter; a garden for food crops in another; and various types of flowers, herbs and cover crops in four circular planters.

The plots would be tended by teams of five or six inmates working under the supervision of two armed jailers. The garden work would be concurrent with OCO's five-week curriculum, which instructs students on the finer points of organic garden design and maintenance.

The project is expected to cost the county $15,000 -- $9,000 for supplies and $6,000 for OCO's time and expertise. (See update below)

There's no mention in the plans of what the county or OCO plans to do with the harvest though, given the size of the beds, it won't be terrifically bountiful. But you never know. If the program proves successful and expands along the banks of the Trinity, Lew Sterrett-brand tomatoes may be hitting the grocery shelves someday.

Update at 3:27 p.m.: Sheriff's department spokeswoman Carmen Castro emailed us back to say the garden has been pulled from Tuesday's agenda so a few more details can be ironed out.

We will be unveiling the project in the near future. The gardening project is designed to bring in community volunteers to train inmates. Sheriff Valdez has envisioned having a rooftop garden for years.

Gardening can be therapeutic and help teach individuals a little bit of patience. Also, when you see a well-kept area, you identify it with a more serene environment and it can all help build a sense of pride as a whole.

Update at 4:30 p.m.: Castro wrote again to clarify that it's the financial details that are still being hashed out.

I just wanted to clarify--The item was pulled because the financial aspect is still being discussed. The program is intended to be on a community volunteer basis.

The cost itself is at no cost to tax payers. Funds being looked at come from commissary, which is through the inmates and not the county general fund.

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