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JACKSON – Enough vegetables, including broccoli, mustard and turnip greens, are being harvested now at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to feed the 12,000-plus offenders in the three main prisons and community work centers of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Farming is one way the state cuts down on food cost to taxpayers, plus give hundreds of inmates something to do while serving time.

In addition to vegetables, the Mississippi Prison Agricultural Enterprises (MPAE) crop production also includes rice, wheat, soybeans and corn. There’s also a poultry facility with a capacity for 36,000 hens.

During fiscal 2012, a total of 4,184,080 pounds of vegetables were produced on 1,258 acres. Of that amount, 2,873,143 pounds, or nearly 70 percent, were donated for inmates to eat. The vegetables were worth about $1.3 million based on the USDA Atlanta Market report.

Inmates also ate 476,804 dozens of eggs valued at $483,331.

Overall, about $1.8 million worth of food went to inmates from the farm program in the last fiscal year that ended June 30.

On average 300 inmates worked per month for 250 eight-hour days. This means the inmates were not idle for 600,000 hours.

Stanley Brooks, who has overseen MPAE since August 2003, said he enjoys the challenge of the farming aspect – seeing the products from the beginning to the end.

“The program teaches the offenders good work ethics as well as a skill that can be used when they are released,” Brooks said. “The program saves the state money on the products we produce and feed the offenders.”

With a nearly $30 million deficit this fiscal year because of inmate growth, two federal court orders and critical capital improvement needs, every dime counts, Commissioner Christopher B. Epps said. “Standing programs like MPAE are critical to our savings. Big or small, all savings add up,” Epps said.

While the mission primarily is to decrease inmate idleness and cut budget costs, MPAE also generates cash, including from a 25-acre blueberry production at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Greene County. In fiscal 2012, the total cash revenue was $2,570,913 and expenditures were $2,646,088. The blueberry crop amounted to 42,291 pounds that brought in $59,809.79 in cash.

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