Beekeeping program helps reform prisoners at Rochester prison

Inmates learn to become beekeepers in a new rehabilitation program that ‘saved’ them.

HMP Rochester began the program earlier this year with academic lessons from the Medway Beekeepers’ Association

Beekeeping Program Aids Prison Reform

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

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

He said: “What it’s done for me, it’s given me something really positive and when I go out my mission is to carry on with the bees. I think that would get me out of trouble.

“It’s really good for the head. It’s definitely worth doing. I think beekeeping really saved me.

“I would recommend it to anyone. It helps with stress and it’s a calming thing. Personally, I think it’s a great thing that prison has come up with.”

The program is run for the over 50s and currently five inmates are being trained as beekeepers, each tending to their own hive in the apiary.

Those who have chosen to be part of the project range from petty criminals to lifers. Staff also had the opportunity to learn and join in.

Staff and inmates tend to bees together once a week
The project has reintegration and gives prisoners something else to think about
The project has reintegration and gives prisoners something else to think about

Daniel added: “I’m not an officer, I’d rather just go up to people I know outside and talk to them, but here I feel like I can talk to everyone on an equal footing. You are treated as if you were equal.

“Why not implement it somewhere else? If it helps one person, why not do it. I think everyone here would say the same thing.”

Inmate Josh* added: “I’ve noticed the dynamic has changed quite a bit. We’ve got the security governor, he’s given us a lot of confidence.

“It definitely helps me. It’s really good to be rehabilitated. The main thing is trust, if the governor trusts you and you are released, I hope he is on your side and knows that you have been good.”

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

Prisoners and staff took six weeks of theoretical lessons in a classroom with the beekeepers’ association – which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year – and learned the basics of beekeeping together. It takes a year to become a skilled caretaker for which the participants all work.

someone showing the queen bee
someone showing the queen bee
They have thousands of bees across the project
They have thousands of bees across the project

They must tend to the hives every seven days and keep a “bee diary”, monitoring the docility of the bees, their health, if there are reserves of pollen, honey or nectar, if eggs have been laid in the honeycomb and if there are queen cells.

These are larger larvae that will become a queen bee either because it is too old and does not produce enough, or if the colony becomes too large. 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 tends to do two at a time and – to make sure the bees don’t all come out at once – use a smoker which stimulates a forest fire and kills the pheromone. insect alarm to descend into the hive.

Josh added: “It gets us out of the cell and something to look forward to once a week. We can’t wait to be there. I know one day a week I’m out in the fresh air.

“When I go 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 unlikely to flee – had the hives for about a month and started with 10,000 bees that will only grow.

They look for eggs, cells and queen reserves and the health and docility of bees
They look for eggs, cells and queen reserves and the health and docility of bees

It is headed by security chief David Frattaroli who launched the apiary after hosting a forum with the over-50 offenders – who are seen as a “cohort of protected figures”.

He led a focus group to see what changes could be made to the regime or programs that might meet the needs of older inmates.

It was suggested that the facility should consider setting up an apiary and David knew of colonies that had been set up in other prisons around the country.

He said: “When I first started setting up the project I went to HMP Coldingley [in Surrey] to look at their plan because they also have beehives and you could see the prisoners were incredibly enthusiastic and incredibly happy doing what they were doing. There was almost a change in behavior.

“When I take care of bees there is an incredibly calming effect and whether it helps rehabilitate people remains to be seen.

“There’s no physiological assessment with this, we’re using the program as a way of trying to use something to entertain our older prisoners and actually if we can create something that sows interest among our prisoners, so that’s the job done for me.

Security and Intelligence Chief David Frattaroli is spearheading the project
Security and Intelligence Chief David Frattaroli is spearheading the project

“We’ve done something for them to try, either as amateurs or as people who want to go out and find meaningful employment outside, and that’s a good thing.

“We want them to live meaningful, law-abiding lives in prison and try to rehabilitate.

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

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

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

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

They shake the bees to inspect the hives
They shake the bees to inspect the hives

“We had the opportunity to get to know the guys involved in the program well and that was invaluable. Watching them gain confidence was fascinating.

“This is a program for the well-being of prisoners and staff and to help improve our environment. It’s a great green thing to have and be a part of. From my perspective, it’s Obviously, it ticks all the boxes.”

Over 50 wing detention manager Tim Sumner said: ‘It was great to be able to change the dynamic between being a prison officer and a prisoner to being on equal footing and having conversations that aren’t about prison life, being a prisoner and an offender – it formed a different relationship.

“The response was very positive. They were fascinated by bees and the life cycle of bees. They loved every minute they spent going out and tending to the hives.

“I think if there is an opportunity, then this should definitely be implemented in other prisons. It’s a third party almost in rehabilitation and able to deal with something. It takes prisoners out of prison. themselves and in a different environment.

Custodian Tim Sumner helps with the bees
Custodian Tim Sumner helps with the bees

“It gave them an opportunity to leave normal prison life. A lot of these guys are lifers and long-term convicts who were very confined during the lockdown period and it gave them an opportunity to leave prison life and caring for bees gave them an outside interest.

The team hopes they’ll be able to make honey eventually, but don’t think they’ll get any this year as they need to make sure the bees have enough stock to get through the winter.

If they are successful, they plan to sell it and use the profits to expand the project and make it neutral.

*Names of prisoners have been changed for reasons of anonymity.