Feeding the population: A look at food production in correctional facilities

Feeding the population: A look at food production in correctional facilities


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CSNSW Operations Manager Anthony Shore in the orchard at the Mannus Correctional Facility.

CSNSW Operations Manager Anthony Shore in the orchard at the Mannus Correctional Facility.

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Each day, Corrective Services NSW feeds more than 10,000 inmates, with over 30,000 meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner distributed at 32 correctional centres across the state.

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Each day, Corrective Services NSW feeds more than 10,000 inmates, with over 30,000 meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner distributed at 32 correctional centres across the state, according to a Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman. 

To deal with the sheer volume of food produce required to feed the states prison population, correctional facilities have continued to develop agricultural production facilities to meet the need. 

Grafton Overseer Vic Fischer assists an inmate tending cherry tomato plants. Photo courtesy CSNSW.

Grafton Overseer Vic Fischer assists an inmate tending cherry tomato plants. Photo courtesy CSNSW.

Inmates work alongside Corrective Services Industries (CSI), the commercial arm of Correctional Services New South Wales, in a variety of production and processing roles. 

Each year CSI produces or processes around 120,000 kilograms of fresh beef; 338,000kg of processed vegetables; 1.3 million apples, 1.8 million litres of fresh milk; 1 million pies and sausage rolls; and 1.5 million bread loaves. 

A report on CSI’s self sufficiency measures for the quarter (October-December 2017) outlines a total saving of $3,517,373 from in-house food production for the year to date, compared to the cost of purchasing produce from alternative sources. 

While the cost saving benefit to taxpayers is obvious, industry programs also offer inmates diverse training and employment opportunities in primary food production and food processing.

Inmates participate in agriculture, hospitality (kitchen operations), food processing and business administration traineeships.

The cherry tomato setup at Grafton.

The cherry tomato setup at Grafton.

There are also short courses offered for inmates in workplace hygiene, food safety, horticulture, animal care and management. 

With different facilities at each CSNSW facility, centres around the state work together to meet demand, increase efficiency and reduce cost to the taxpayer. 

NSW’s 13,200 corrective service inmates collectively eat around 500 kilograms of cherry tomatoes a day, so CSI planted over 7,000 cherry tomato plants at Grafton to meet demand. 

In five short months, yields have already eclipsed eight tonnes. 

The tomatoes are tended, picked, cleaned, graded and packed by around 100 inmates, and stored in a newly-established cool room before being shipped out. 

Corrective Services Industries overseers Vic Fischer and Ben Preston with Education Services Coordinator Bernie Francis and a box of freshly prepared cherry tomatoes.

Corrective Services Industries overseers Vic Fischer and Ben Preston with Education Services Coordinator Bernie Francis and a box of freshly prepared cherry tomatoes.

The crop is planted in boxes built with timber sourced from nearby Glen Innes Correctional Centre and is irrigated by its own collected rainwater.

A further three correctional centres are being supplied with inmate-grown tomatoes, with plans to supply over 140 tonnes a year across the state.

Education Services Coordinator for Grafton, Bernie Francis, says the horticulture program is seen as a stepping stone to a career beyond prison. 

“Many inmates don’t really have an employment history, and this program assists them with learning the behaviours necessary for post-release employment, as well as giving them the qualifications they need to walk out of our gates and into jobs,” Mr Francis said.

Craig Porch with inmates harvesting cauliflowers at St Heliers Correctional facility.

Craig Porch with inmates harvesting cauliflowers at St Heliers Correctional facility.

The program allows inmates to receive Certificate 2 Nursery Production Traineeships with TAFE NSW. 

St Heliers Correctional Centre, Musswellbrook, grows a wide range of vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, capsicum, onions, celery, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, peas and tomatoes. 

Set on 516 hectares of farm land, about 60 inmates at St Heliers help grow cattle out on grain to 400kg’s before selling on to slaughter. 

Mannus Correctional Centre, Tumbarumba, is home to a large scale cattle and sheep operation. 

The return for this cattle eases the running cost of each facility dramatically.

St Heliers produces a wide range of vegetables for consumption in facilities across the state.

St Heliers produces a wide range of vegetables for consumption in facilities across the state.

The herd of 1200 Angus cattle is bred for export to Japan, while culled cattle travels to St Hillier’s to be grown out to slaughter weight. 

 About 5000 sheep are bred to enter the prime lamb market, often receiving amongst the top prices on AuctionsPlus. 

The facility also contains an orchard which provides fruit direct to cells across the state. 

The Long Bay and Wellington correctional centres oversee a bakery unit, in which 6,000 sausage rolls, pies and ba​ked lunches are produced each ​day, as well as baking up to 6,000 desserts and 4,200 bread loaves and rolls. 

Some of the Angus herd at Mannus correctional facility.

Some of the Angus herd at Mannus correctional facility.

Closer to the city, the John Morony Correctional Centre, Windsor, serves as a packing site for inmates to collate non-perishable foodstuffs into individual breakfast packs for distribution to all NSW correctional centres.​ 

Group director of Industries and Education, Steve Thorpe, has worked in correctional services for over 25 years, and knows the importance of providing inmates with useable skills for the outside. 

“You lift education levels and your cognitive skills increase. If you can provide an education and technical skills you make it that much less likely to have people return to prison.”

Inmates work with local industry experts and CSI staff to prepare cattle for export.

Inmates work with local industry experts and CSI staff to prepare cattle for export.

“The aim is clearly to reduce costs, but also to engage the inmate population. Without engagement the prison is a much harder place to live in,” he said. 

“Inmates are picking up skill sets and a work ethic. They are taught how to interact with a boss, and to work within a team. We want to see as many people as possible re-integrated with jobs back in their communities.” 

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