JAILHOUSE GARDEN DOUBLES IN SIZE,
Friday, September 9, 2011
—A massive expansion of the garden on the grounds of the Cook County Jail is allowing more than 100 non-violent detainees to earn gardening and landscaping job skills while they are incarcerated, with dozens of those detainees set to be recognized with certificates of completion today, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Friday.
In a ceremony at the garden, 32 detainees will be honored for having completed work in the classroom and garden that gives them the skills and knowledge needed to obtain landscaping and gardening jobs. Twenty more will receive certificates of participation for completing some course work from the 12-week horticultural and landscaping curriculum.
This marks the first time in the garden’s 18-year history that all of the produce grown started from seed in a new 1,500 square foot greenhouse built last year. That allowed the program to be carried out year-round and saved about $1,000 in costs of purchasing plants.
Sheriff Dart also approved expansion of the garden from 14,000 square feet to the 30,000 square feet the detainees have been working this year. That, coupled with the greenhouse, has meant more than 100 detainees can take part in the gardening program, which is three times as the number usually taking part in the program.
Detainees were able to harvest about 3,000 pounds of produce this year – a drop from previous years that is attributed to severe weather damage. Vegetables and other produce were donated to local shelters and food banks. Additionally, the program has continued a partnership with Charlie Trotter’s and The Publican restaurants, which purchase produce.
All participants are awaiting trial or are serving short sentences for non-violent crimes and most are dealing with substance abuse issues. The program, developed as a way to increase their job opportunities as they re-enter the workforce, is operated at no cost to taxpayers, as inmate welfare funds – profits generated off jail commissary sales – are used to fund all operations. The goal is to develop the program so that it is completely self-sustaining.