tilapia

With more than 7 correctional facilities in the Cañon City, CO area, it may not be surprising that innovation is finding its way into rehabilitation programs for area inmates. But fishing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of prison programs — especially in the high desert region of the southwest, even though the Colorado River runs through the town.

But fishing it is for inmates — fish farms, that is. The Department of Corrections began its food production program in 2001, focusing their aquaculture division on the African tilapia (which has become quite a popular fish due in part to distributors and wholesalers who offer regular promotions on Tilapia products that they source from the DOC). Prisoners also raise koi and even goldfish.

Growing from 12,000 square feet to nearly 100,000 since the program began, Colorado’s Department of Corrections plans to quadruple the size of the processing plant in the coming years. Part of Colorado Correction Industries, which includes farming, dairies, greenhouses and beekeeping, more than 800 inmates are employed in the program.

Whole Foods Market, the nation’s largest natural food chain, who just announced a humane farming rating program for its meat products, is one of the largest customers of the Department of Corrections, purchasing thousands of pounds of prison farmed tilapia raised and processed by inmates serving sentences as serious as life in prison for murder. Wages and bonus incentives motivate the prisoners, as do the longer shifts when available, which some see as catharsis for dealing with the severity of their crimes and their sentences.

Stay in touch with Jill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jillettinger

Photo by Clay Irving, courtesy of Creative Commons