Summit County Jail garden teaches inmates to reap what they sow |

Summit County Jail garden teaches inmates to reap what they sow

Program designed to teach new skills, reduce chance of reoffence

A luscious garden full of fruits and vegetables, colorful flowers and a greenhouse are tucked behind a barbed wire fence outside of the Summit County Justice Center. Inmates who are tasked with caring for the space can learn important lessons about working hard and reaping what they sow, according to Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kacey Bates.
David Jackson/Park Record

A luscious garden tucked away inside a barbed wire fence outside of the Summit County Justice Center provides the jail’s inmates with an important lesson about reaping what you sow.

Sheriff’s Office Lt. Kacey Bates, who oversees the jail, said this summer’s garden is one of the best they’ve had – and the payoff is years in the making. The outdoor space, which includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers, as well as a hand-built greenhouse packed with herbs and gardening supplies, is the culmination of a partnership between the corrections officers, those incarcerated and community volunteers.

“The garden has never quite been like this,” she said. “[The inmates] leave better than when they came. They learn and grow while they’re here.”

The success of the garden is dependent on the work inmates put in, Bates said. The jail provides people with work opportunities, which they can apply for and earn based on several factors such as behavior. There are currently two men who work in the garden. Neither had prior experience before applying, Bates said, but a binder passed down with information compiled by previous gardeners has helped them learn. Volunteers from organizations such as Summit Community Gardens also provide training and instruction.

Having started as a small pumpkin patch, Bates is excited to see how the garden has grown. This year, they’re growing sunflowers for the first time and are expecting to harvest 120 gourds, which will be donated to community organizations. 

The harvest is also used in the facility to feed the inmates. In the past, the produce has also gone to the Park City Farmers Market. The garden program’s success has inspired the jail’s kitchen staff to offer suggestions to the inmates about what to grow.

Inmates at the Summit County Jail are learning how to grow vegetables in a sizable garden on the north side of the jail.
David Jackson/Park Record

The inmates have the sole responsibility for maintaining the grounds. They usually go outside at 8 a.m. and return around 3:30 p.m., with a few breaks in between. Bates said their sense of pride is evident. She recalled the large smiles that are always evident on the inmates’ faces as they carry in their harvest each morning. The infectious positive energy usually spreads throughout the jail, she said.

Bates said improving programming was one of her biggest goals when taking over the position. She said programs like the garden take a holistic approach to law enforcement and help reduce recidivism, which is the likelihood of a person committing another crime, by giving incarcerated people skills and knowledge. One former gardener went on to work in construction management following his release.

“It’s the inmates’ decision. This is a result of their hard work. They’ve put a lot into doing this,” she said. “If they’re not out here, they’d be sitting idly inside.”

The gardeners continue to make upgrades to the space by adding stepping stones, wooden support structures and composting areas. All of the work has been completed by those working in the garden. Many of the materials are repurposed. 

Soon, a beehive will be donated to the garden. The inmates are learning from their mistakes in the garden and are already brainstorming new ways to improve it, such as winterizing the greenhouse. They’re also starting to consider what seeds they want to plant next season.

“There’s some forward-thinking anticipation,” Bates said. “They’re applying what they’ve learned so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

Summit County

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