JEFFERSON CITY - Planting gardens is the latest solution to rehabilitating Missouri's prison inmates, according to a bill heard Tuesday in the House Correctional and State Institutions Committee.
The bill would mandate any new correctional facility to set aside up to five acres inside the fence for gardening purposes.
"Inmates need something to do and what's better than working in the garden," said Rep. Dale Whiteside, R-Chillicothe. "Plus, they can eat their produce."
But the Missouri Corrections Department is already "doing it," said Department Director Dora Schriro. In fact, there are at least three gardening programs across the state, due to a job programs law passed in 1994.
While Whiteside said watching a plant grow could be rehabilitating, only low risk inmates would be allowed to garden.
"They (prisoners) can be innovative with using things for weapons," Whiteside said.
And with all the produce from gardening, inmates would be allowed to eat what they harvest - only if they produced enough for every inmate.
Schriro said if the garden didn't produce enough for every inmate to have some, the harvest would be donated to charities.
"That might be a good exercise for those in a treatment program," said Committee Chairman Wayne Crump, D-Potosi.
But Crump's committee has not scheduled a vote on the bill and with the legislative session nearly half over, the gardening proposal would appear to have little chance of passage.