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Garden Flourishes, Offers Unique Opportunity to Inmates

HARRISON, Ark. -- A state program in Arkansas is helping change the lives of the incarcerated through hard work, while saving money in the process.

HARRISON, Ark. -- A state program in Arkansas is helping change the lives of the incarcerated through hard work, while saving money in the process.

Arkansas’ "309 Program" allows inmates in prisons to finish out their sentences in jail. At the Boone County Detention Center, those inmates are allowed to use part of that time working in a garden.

"They've earned the right to be in that program by good behavior, they're non violent," says Boone County Sheriff Mike Moore, "They're like trustees."

Sheriff Moore says in five years the one-and-a-half acre garden of tomatoes, corn, and cabbage has continued to grow, along with it the men working on it.

"I recently had one leave, and I'm quoting him, he said ‘I definitely have a different perspective of law enforcement now, than I did when I came in," says Moore.

Among those whose perspective has been changed in Chris Christiansen, whose four years from finishing up a 15-year sentence.

"I completely see them different now, now I'm sober," says Christiansen, "I realize they're not all out to get people, they're actually out to help people,"

Christiansen and six other inmates also cook, clean and work on the Sheriff Department's cruisers, but the real fruits of their labor, Christiansen says, is in the new purpose gained in the garden.

"It's taking pride in your work, you see the results," says Christiansen, "We want it to produce more every year."

In just the last three years, the garden has helped save the jail more than $50,000 in food costs. For example, in 2013 the garden yielded more than 20,000 pounds of produce.

Moore says the work of the inmates has helped lower food costs to 75 cents per meal, And he says what isn't frozen is given away to local food banks.

"We realize everybody makes mistakes, get your mistakes paid for, get back out in the community and go do something positive," says Moore. 

He also says he hopes the work ethic gained at the garden will follow the men once they leave.

"I'm gonna have me a garden," says Christiansen, "I can work on a lot of vehicles, I can cook just about anything you can think of."

"Jail Gardens" can also be found across the county, including in Lincoln County, Missouri.


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