In 2015, the Georgia Beekeepers Association and the University of Georgia Honey Bee Lab, joined forces to form the Georgia Prison Beekeeping Program. It first began at Smith State, a maximum-security prison, where the first class of 15 students were certified through the Georgia Master Beekeeping Program. Since then, the program has expanded into eight prisons with well over 100 participating and certified inmates.

The initial goal of the Georgia Prison Beekeeping Program was to educate inmates in the art of beekeeping; but it has gone much further than that. Aside from general beekeeping skills, students have acquired other skills as well, from learning how to read, to woodworking, welding, painting and writing. Since becoming certified, several have gone on to complete their GEDs. Many have expressed tokens of self-satisfaction like, “I never thought I could pass a University of Georgia exam,” and virtually all have expressed optimism that, “I now know I can learn and thereby accomplish anything I put my mind to.” Prison officials from Michigan, Arkansas and Arizona have contacted GBA officers for guidance on introducing similar programs in their states.

Funding for the program so far has been provided by the GDC, GBA, the UGA Bee Lab and generous donations from beekeepers. The money is used to provide beekeeping equipment, bee medications, educational material and bee feed for the prison program. However, the real reason the program is working is because of the tireless work of many volunteers. These amazing volunteers are Julia Mahood, Brutz English, Virginia Webb, Mark Davis, Brent Houston, Chaplain Sapp, Broadus Williams and Bear Kelley. These are the ones who have taken countless hours of their time and tirelessly driven to the prisons to educate individuals who have little to no opportunity to learn about bees. It has also been difficult recruiting and retaining volunteers, who have become the backbone for this program. Without them, the program will certainly wither and die on the vine. Read about each of these who are making a difference.

The recidivism rate in the state of Georgia has been reported as high as 70% for inmates within the first three years of being released; however, those inmates that complete an in-prison educational program have a 33% reduction in recidivism. This is evidence for the positive impact of educational programs taught behind bars to help prepare inmates for life on the outside. For the inmates involved in the Georgia Beekeeping Prison Program, the benefits of beekeeping are numerous. They not only get a chance to learn a new skill that could help them find employment once released, but beyond the educational benefits, as many inmates have stated, beekeeping provides a more intangible perk; it gives them hope! Plus, it gives inmates something to care for, to love while behind bars. The program has also greatly enhanced the lives of these beekeeping participants by providing intellectual stimulation, vocational training, and a much needed relief from the monotony of prison life. As one warden said, “One day these inmates may be your neighbor, and it is important to give them the training necessary to make it on the outside so they will not only be good neighbors but more importantly, stay our neighbors.”

If you would like to volunteer or donate to the prison program, please contact Julia Mahood, Georgia Prison Program Coordinator at juliamahood@gmail.com

And if you would like to know more about how the Georgia Prison Beekeeping Program began read History: The Beginning.