Originally created 02/06/01

Inmates serve time on farms



REIDSVILLE, Ga. - Kevin Young is doing time.

He scoops up grain and fills a feeder for the pink, sleepy piglets under his care.

The piglets are behind bars. But Mr. Young isn't - at least not during the day.

Mr. Young, a 30-year-old Savannah man serving time for domestic violence and an assault more than two years ago, takes care of pigs at Rogers State Prison Farm in Reidsville.

He is one of about 300 inmates at Rogers who work in the farm's dairy, fields, cannery, beef and hog operations, and slaughterhouse.

It's much more than busy work. The Rogers inmates and six other prison farms around the state produce almost half the food eaten by Georgia's prisoners. The Rogers farm also helps University of Georgia research aimed at protecting crops against disease and bad weather.

Mr. Young would not be doing this work if he were a free man. He had no farm experience and still has little interest in farming for a living.

"It's nasty," he said, the smell of pigs floating in the air, clinging to his uniform.

But in caring for the animals, he has experienced some of what he had missed in his life before prison.

He said he likes watching the pigs being born, "how they come out and they're wiggling."

He missed the birth of his daughter, now 4.

Mr. Young, who doesn't eat pork, said the work is better than other jobs - laundry, dishes, kitchen work - inmates perform.

"It's OK. It's a lot of responsibility," he said. "I haven't had time to goof off."

Aside from the value of the food that is produced, keeping the inmates busy is one of the main benefits of the farm program, said Rogers' farm and livestock Manager Dale Sikes.

In his more than two years at the farm, he can recall only one escape at Rogers - from a construction detail, not the farm. Mr. Sikes said that, for the most part, inmates prefer farm work to other jobs. Some even put in long hours without pay to stay in the fresh air.

"I remember harvesting corn at 3 o'clock in the morning" before a storm, Mr. Sikes said. "They volunteer."

A tractor makes for a cumbersome escape vehicle. But the low risk of escape is also because of the minimum-security status of most inmates. They rarely serve more than two years on the farm, so escape isn't as attractive an option, state farm administrator Joe English said.

"You don't put a guy who's doing 30 years on a tractor," he said.

The minimum-security inmates must be physically observed once an hour by the security guards in charge to keep track of their whereabouts.

The farm consists of more than 9,600 acres and 45 staff members, including 14 security officers. They monitor the 175 inmates who work on the farm.

And they train many, many city boys to milk a cow, to operate farm equipment and, most importantly, to show up on time in all types of weather to care for animals who cannot care for themselves.

"We don't just turn the inmates loose with the cows," said Bill Swain, livestock coordinator for the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine.

About 20 inmates work in Mr. Swain's unit.

"Most of them don't have any experience with the animals," he said.

Mr. Sikes said choosing the right types of inmates for farm work and training them properly keeps things running at the farm.

"I haven't missed a scheduled shipment of anything since I've been here," he said.

"We don't just turn the inmates loose with the cows. Most of them don't have any experience with the animals."- Bill Swain, livestock coordinator for the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine