Bangor Daily News, August 9, 2007
by Nancy Oden
Drug- and alcohol-related crimes, plus mandatory, lengthy sentences have caused serious overcrowding of Maine's jails and prisons.
Simply locking inmates in cages, where they loll about, eating, sleeping and watching TV, is terribly expensive and does not help them get ready for the outside world.
Our idea is to create a 100-acre-plus organic farm where inmates grow their own food (saving us money), as well as food for the needy.
On this organic farm, called Clean Earth Farms, inmates can learn organic farming and gardening, carpentry, plumbing, electricity using solar and wind, building with sustainable materials, first aid, and other survival
Since virtually all inmates are going to be released, they can use these skills to start small, independent businesses or organic farms in their communities. Maine needs thousands more small farmers to grow enough food for our food security.
We want them to be good, productive members of society, not in-and-out-of-prison career criminals.
The inmate residents of Clean Earth Farms can help prepare us for the economic and environmental problems we'll soon be facing: extreme weather, shortages of food, oil, clean water, wildlife, fish and so on.
The expectation is that these inmates, mostly young males, former drug addicts and alcoholics, will go back into the communities and live the life they've learned, passing their newfound skills to others so we can live mostly free of big oil and pesticide-poison agriculture.
Inmates can, as part of their community service while at Clean Earth Farms:
Clean Earth Farms should have a 24-hour hotline for people overdosing or panicking while on drugs or alcohol, and they should be taken in immediately, if that's what is needed. The point is to help both the addicts and the community at the same time.
There should also be a section for veterans so they can be with others who will understand their particular problems.
There could also be a section for long-timers (those who committed more serious crimes) who are not problem inmates, most of whom would jump at the chance to do something useful instead of simply rotting away in a cage.
We might also consider having inmates build simple, plain, low-cost housing for poor and homeless people, and for themselves when they're released. Since prisoners often have a difficult time finding jobs and housing, they could live there and earn their keep by doing continuous community service for others in need.
Clean Earth Farms' buildings could be of concrete with greenhouses attached to the entire south walls to help heat the buildings and grow seedlings for the farm and community gardens. Solar and wind arrays could provide most of the energy needs, along with the energy-efficient buildings' use of natural light.
Gardens would be raised beds, which are worked by hand, so that no machinery would be needed.
The facility should be easily reachable by workers, who could also grow and gather food for their families. This should minimize boredom, the bane of prison guards.
Work would not be optional at Clean Earth Farms. Everyone works, everyone eats.
Many inmates do not know how to work, never having done so. If we teach them how to read and how to work and give them the skills to survive out in the world, then we will have lessened the number of inmates who come back, and we will have created productive citizens who are a credit to their families and the community.
This facility would create many good jobs, especially since it could be built to handle as many inmates as necessary.
We probably won't save them all, but we will have tried, and I'm confident we can help many lead healthy, good lives.
Let's not let the private, for-profit prison corporations take over. To them, more prisoners equal more profits at taxpayers' expense.
No, we want fewer prisoners, lower taxes and people with needed skills coming out of our jails and prisons.
Time to do what's best for Maine people, not wealthy corporations. These are our young people; it's up to us to help them as best we can.
Nancy Oden lives in Jonesboro.
Her e-mail is