Bees helping criminals prepare for outside world

Inmates are learning to become beekeepers in a new rehabilitation scheme which has “saved” them.

HMP Rochester started the programme earlier this year with theory classes from the Medway Beekeepers’ Association

The beekeeping scheme helps with reform at the prison

Now, after receiving the hives four weeks ago, they are now putting their knowledge into practice.

Inmate Daniel* signed up for the project as he has always had a passion for wildlife and thought it would be something he could enjoy while at the facility in Fort Road.

He said: “What it has done for me, it has given me something really positive and when I get out my mission is carry on with bees. I think it would keep me out of trouble.

“It is really good for the head. It is really worth doing. I think beekeeping has saved me really.

“I would recommend it to anybody. It does help with stress and it is a calm thing. Personally, I think it is a great thing the prison has thought up.”

The scheme is run for the over 50s’ wing and currently five inmates are training to be beekeepers, each looking after their own hive in the apiary.

Those who chose to be part of the project range from petty criminals to those serving life sentences. Staff were also given the opportunity to learn and join in alongside them.

Staff and prisoners tend to the bees together once a weekThe project has with rehabilitation and gives prisoners something else to think about

Daniel added: “I am not an officer person, I would rather only go to people I know outside and talk to them but here I feel I can talk to everyone on an equal level. You are treated like you are equal.

“Why not implement it elsewhere? If it helps one person, why not do that. I think everybody here would say the same thing.”

Inmate Josh* added: “I have noticed the dynamic has changed quite a bit. We have the security governor, he has given us a lot of trust.

“This is helping me definitely. It is really good for being rehabilitated. The main thing is trust, if the governor trusts you and you come up for release hopefully he is on your side and knows you have been good.”

Josh told how he looks forward to Wednesdays because he can open up the hives and really get involved in their care although he admitted they are all still learning every day.

The prisoners and staff had six weeks of theory lessons in a classroom with the beekeepers’ association – which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year – and learnt the basics of beekeeping together. It takes a year to become a qualified keeper which the participants are all working towards.

Someone pointing out the Queen beeThey have thousands of bees across the project

They have to tend to the hives every seven days and keep a ‘bee diary’, monitoring the docility of the bees, their health, if there are stores of pollen, honey or nectar, if eggs have been laid in the honeycomb and if there are any Queen cells.

These are bigger larva which will develop into a Queen bee either because the current one is too old and not producing enough or if the colony is getting too big. The latter means action needs to be taken as the bees could swarm and leave the hive with the new Queen.

When opening the hives, the group tend to do two at a time and – to ensure the bees do not all come out at once – use a smoker which stimulates a forest fire and kills the insects alarm pheromone so they go down into the hive.

Josh added: “It gets us out the cell and something to look forward to once a week. We look forward to it. I know one day a week I am out in the fresh air.

“When I get out I would like to have a hive. Not for commercial use but just as a hobby, 100%.”

The category C prison – where people are felt unlikely to abscond – has had the hives for around a month and started with 10,000 bees which will only grow.

They look for eggs, Queen cells and stores and at the health and docility of the bees

It is led by head of security David Frattaroli who started the apiary after running a forum with the over 50s’ offenders – who are considered a “protected character cohort”.

He ran a focus group to see what changes could be made to the regime or programmes which might aid the needs of the older prisoners.

It was suggested the facility should consider setting up an apiary and David knew of colonies that had been made at other prisons across the country.

He said: “When I originally started setting up the project, I went to HMP Coldingley [in Surrey] to look at their scheme as they have hives too and you could see the prisoners were incredibly enthused and incredibly happy to be doing what they were doing. There was almost a change in behaviour.

“When I tend the bees, there is an incredibly calming affect and whether it helps to rehabilitate people is yet to be seen.

“There is no physiological evaluation with this, we are using the scheme as a means to try and use something to keep our older prisoners entertained and actually if we can create something that sows a seed of interest among our prisoners, then that is job done for me.

Head of security and intelligence David Frattaroli is spearheading the project

“We have done something for them to try whether as hobbyists or people who want to go out and gain some purposeful employment outside, and that is a good thing.

“We want them to lead law-abiding and useful lives while in prison and try and rehabilitate themselves.

“This is a great opportunity to do something that is different, give them the opportunity to care for something – which some of them might never have done before – and that to me is invaluable.”

Six staff have also been trained as beekeepers and the idea is after a year they can all pass on their knowledge to other prisoners and expand the project.

David added: “One of the things I stipulated from the beginning is we do this together. I have worked in the prison service for many years and when we have had the opportunity to do something with the prisoners it always seems to be an us and a them situation.

“This was different. This was sitting in a classroom learning at the same speed as everyone else. There was no hierarchical structure.

They shake the bees off to inspect the hives

“We have had the opportunity to get to know the guys involved in the scheme really well and that has been invaluable. Watching them gain in confidence has been fascinating.

“This is a scheme for the wellbeing of prisoners and staff and to help improve our environment. It is a great ecological thing to have and be apart of. From my point of view it is a no brainer, it ticks every box.”

Custodial manager of the over 50s’ wing, Tim Sumner, said: “It has been great to be able to change the dynamics between being a prison officer and a prisoner to being on an equal footing and having conversations that are not about prison life, being a prisoner and offending – it has formed a different relationship.

“The response has been very positive. They have been fascinated with the bees and the bees’ life cycle. They have loved every minute of coming out and tending to the hives.

“I think if there is an opportunity, then it absolutely should be implemented in other prisons. It is a third party almost in rehabilitation and being able to look after something. It takes prisoners out of themselves and into a different environment.

Custodial manager Tim Sumner helps with the bees

“It has given them an opportunity to leave the normal prison life. A lot of these guys are life-sentence prisoners and long-termers who have been very confined during the lockdown period and it has given them an opportunity to leave the prison life behind and just get involved in looking after the bees. It has given them an external interest.”

The team hopes they will eventually be able to make honey but do not think they will get any this year as they need to make sure the bees have enough stored to get them through the winter.

If they do make it, they are thinking of selling it and using the profits to expand the project and make it cost neutral.

*Prisoners’ names have been changed for anonymity reasons.

Animals Crime Human Interest In Depth Kent Medway Alex Langridge


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