Cook County inmates serving time by raising chickens

Cook County inmates serving time by raising chickens
August 1, 2013 3:15:09 PM PDT
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has pioneered unusual programs for non-violent inmates that he says he thinks will make them less likely to return.

Just inside the wall, you'll find a different kind of jail bird in the Cook County lock-up.

"We put these here so they're trained to come back and lay the eggs," said inmate.

That's right: Inmates are raising chickens. And corrections officers are the foxes guarding the hen house.

There may be people who see this and say that it's one more of Sheriff Tom Dart's crazy ideas.

"Yes," Dart said, "and there's more crazy ideas to come, as long as it has the hook."

That hook, according to Dart, is life skills.

In the case of the chickens: Teaching non-violent inmates skills they can use on the outside. They're the ones who built the coops, tend the grounds, care for the hens and package their product.

"Once they get acclimated to life behind bars, the jail's 30 chickens are expected to produce nearly 200 eggs per week."

Miguel Guerrero has a few days left on a 45 day sentence for driving on a suspended license.

"I had a background in training horses," he said. "I've always been interested in livestock so it's a new skill to learn."

"People see we're in jail and they think of us as criminals, but we're not," said inmate Daniel Diaz. "We're normal people that make mistakes outside and we got to pay the consequences."

The Sheriff also runs a large garden. The produce is sold to restaurants across the city. He's hosted chess tournaments with Russian prisoners, even offered guitar lessons.

"The notion that inmates sit in a cell all day, conspire with other detainees about their next time as opposed to sitting here doing something positive, this really is a no-brainer," Dart said.

And the chickens may be getting some pen pals soon. There are plans in the works for inmates to begin raising tilapia behind bars as well.


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