Courtesy Missouri Dept of Corrections

The Missouri’s Department of Corrections (DOC) has been mired in allegations of harassment and retaliation against corrections employees that have cost the state millions of dollars in settlements.
But the agency says one of its inmate initiatives resulted in almost 140 tons of produce being donated to non-profits last year.

It’s Restorative Justice Garden Program engages inmates in the process of cultivating fruits and vegetables on prison grounds.  Outgoing DOC Director George Lombardi thinks the program can be instrumental in rehabilitating offenders.

“It really teaches offenders compassion and altruism in particular” said Lombardi.  “And these are qualities that a lot of those inmates never had in their life, or it was suppressed because of childhood trauma.”

Lombardi says prisons often get a bad rap for not taking steps to rehabilitate those incarcerated.  “I mean that is a myth.  I don’t care what system you’re in in this country.  We’re all engaged with education for offenders.  We’re engaged in substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, all kinds of opportunities for offenders who want to help themselves.”

The program operates at all of the state’s 21 adult prisons without the use of taxpayer money.  All of the seeds and plants for the gardens are donated to the institutions.

The top producing prisons are the Booneville, Farmington and Northeast Correctional Centers.

The fresh produce generated by the inmates is donated to local food pantries, shelters, churches and nursing homes.  Lombardi says the staggering quantity of produce has an impact on the outlets that receive it.

“I mean, I don’t know.  137 tons is a lot of produce obviously.  When you’re able to fulfill many of the needs of 80 pantries, as an example, I think that gets the picture pretty well.”

Lombardi’s last day as DOC Director is Tuesday, the day after Republican Governor-elect Eric Greitens is sworn into office.

Greitens decided to replace him last month after a newspaper reported the state paid more than $7.5 million in settlement payments and judgments resulting from harassment and retaliation allegations from DOC employees.

Lombardi has worked at the agency for 41 years.  He told Missourinet that he’s not sure what he’s going to do next, but will give himself time to “decompress”.  He said it’s been a privilege and an honor to work at the department.