The “buzz” on New Zealand prison vocational training

By Christopher Zoukis

Well this is one for the books, apiary books, to be specific. Inmates at several New Zealand prisons are being given training in a surprising area: beekeeping. Apiculture is now being taught to youths at Hawkes’ Bay Regional Prison through a correspondence course at Lincoln University as well as Auckland South Corrections Facility.

Honey is actually big money in the country, with Manuka honey quickly becoming a premium product globally. It’s been so much so, that the sweet nectar has been the focus of a number of thefts of beehives recently. There are concerns among some that because the industry itself has had so many issues with crime that there may be an incentive for those “graduating” from the program to take a seedier approach beekeeping upon release—but it’s a spurious argument. That’s like saying that prisoners educated in mathematics or computing are necessarily going to cook the books or become hackers. The value of these types of programs is not simply about the skills developed, but about building self-esteem and feeling as though one is contributing to society.

The potential for criminality exists in every career in existence, so to criticize it on that basis lends little weight to arguments against it. It also means that it’s a growing industry that could provide numerous job opportunities to prisoners upon re-entry. The honey that has been generated from the project is used in the prison kitchens and is also disseminated under the name “Bad Boys Honey,” to families and individuals in need.

Globally, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been a growing concern for the last decade, and remains so in many parts of the world, so there’s an additional benefit to encouraging individuals to learn more about the species and their role in seeing it thrive.

The program was spearheaded by a prison guard, Carl McQuinlan, who was himself a hobbyist beekeeper and saw the potential not only to assist prisoners in their social development, but also to provide them with job skills for the future.

 

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