TDCJ’s Offender Beekeeping Program
Texas inmates once raised bees at the prisons to help pollinate their field crops. However, they stopped keeping beehives decades ago. But now the bees are back and this time Texas Department of Criminal Justice is doing their part to help.
TDCJ’s revamped bee program began in 2006 when two captured hives were placed at the Ellis Unit. Since then the program has grown to include ninety-three active hives and eighteen new hives located at thirteen units across Texas where Agribusiness managed gardens are cultivated.
Richard Shaver, Deputy Director of Agribusiness and Minerals, says the bees are critical to growing crops used by the agency.
Agribusiness operates and manages over 139,000 acres located at various Texas prisons utilizing over 2,500 offenders. Offenders are an integral part of the labor force allowing for on-the-job training ranging from clerks to heavy equipment operators, to meat packing and canning. Offenders obtain a skill and acquire experience that can be utilized in the outside world.
Each Agribusiness farm with a vegetable production program maintains one or more hives depending on the size of the operation. Each hive or colony consists of one queen bee and 10 to 15 thousand worker bees that gather pollen and nectar within a half-mile radius of their hive each day, and in the process, pollinate plants. TDCJ employees who oversee the bee program on each farm also train and educate offenders in the skill of beekeeping.
Bees and offenders may seem like an odd combination but it’s not according to Bobby Lumpkin, Director of Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Logistics.
“This program really is beneficial. Offenders are learning skills they can use when they get out of prison. The crops in the field are being pollinated. We’re helping cultivate colonies which have been shrinking nationwide. Then there’s the added benefit of honey,” said Lumpkin.
Honey is harvested each year and used by the agency’s food service program. In 2016, 547 pounds of honey was produced by TDCJ bee hives.
If an offender has a keen interest in participating in this type of program and can express how the training will assist them become a valuable member of society when they are released, then they can ask for a transfer to a unit with a beekeeping program. However, all such transfers are done solely at the discretion of the TDCJ.
Any prisoner participating in the program should keep a record of their job duties and how the program has allowed them to increase their self worth as well as how it can help them to in the outside. It will also make an excellent addition to the parole packet, which is important in being granted parole.
Offenders can learn more about the best way to submit a Texas Parole Packet, the information it should contain, as well as forms and examples from our book How to Prepare a Texas Parole Packet. How to Prepare a Texas Parole Package is available as a downloadable e-book in PDF format or as a bundle containing both a printed book (which can be mailed to an inmate) and also a downloadable PDF. The bundle will allow both the offender and someone on the outside to work together to prepare the packet.