The plan has a twofold aim, they said. First, it will help reduce the cost of providing food to the jail’s inmates. And second, it will teach them a skill.
“The county gets a much better benefit than them sitting in jail,” Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones said.
The program will apply to certain non-jailed offenders, too.
Jones said those who have not complied with probation orders for misdemeanor offenses and who don’t have violent offenses on their records would be permitted to work on the farm by a case-by-case basis. Some of them would be assigned electronic ankle bracelets allowing them to live at home while officials monitor their whereabouts with global positioning technology.
Program participants using ankle bracelets would have to provide their own housing, transportation, food and medical needs. That will take the burden of those expenses from the county and it will give inmates the opportunity to be productive outside of a jail cell, officials said.
“A lot of people who come to jail have never done anything positive in their life,” Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said. “It teaches them self-worth.”
The proposed farm would be located on property at the Calhoun County landfill — away from the section of the landfill’s property that’s being used to dump debris, said Butler Green, the landfill’s environmental coordinator.
The farm at the landfill will be an expansion of an existing gardening program at the jail. Inmates already help the county farm an acre of land at Holly Farms, which is owned in Weaver by the City of Anniston. Last year the garden on that site yielded between four and five tons of vegetables valued at roughly $20,000 according to the department’s own calculations, Wade said.
The property at the landfill is county-owned, thus a better fit for the jail’s gardening program, officials said. The plan is to expand the garden to cover two acres and to expand the scope of the program itself by raising livestock.
“We’re starting out over there,” Wade said.
The Sheriff’s Department is also counting on the growth to cut into the cost of feeding inmates. Currently it costs $3.50 per day to feed one inmate. That adds up to $400,000 annually, according to Faye Robertson, assistant Calhoun County administrator.
The jail’s average daily population varies between 430 and 470, Wade said.
Officials said they don’t know how much “starting over” will cost, but Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson said expenses will probably not exceed $5,000. Using inmate labor, officials plan to build a barn or shed and possibly to buy fence posts and barbed wire to contain livestock.
They also said it’s unclear at this point how much the farm expansion will save the county. But, Wade said, if the farm develops as they would like, jail officials would only have to purchase milk and bread for inmates.
Currently, officials are in the earliest stages of planning. Green said they have not decided upon a plot of land to place the proposed garden — a task that could become a challenge given the topography. According to Green, much of the land available for gardening at the landfill is rocky and not prime for growing vegetables. However, it could be modified to be used as a garden, he said.
The county has “several hundred acres” that could be used “without question” to farm food for inmates, Green said.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.