Rose Acre Farms partners with Jennings County Jail to bring inmates experience, opportunity


For the last four months, Rose Acre Farms’ Jen Acre Egg Farm has partnered with the Jennings County Jail, providing inmates an opportunity to gain work experience and financial stability before being released from custody.

Inmates enrolled in the program have the chance to be at the egg farm part time, working in the processing facility and cage-free chicken houses just east of North Vernon.

The idea stemmed from a similar program already going on at Rose Acre Farms’ Iowa locations. Jen Acre Egg Farm Complex Manager Mike Hines then contacted Jennings County Sheriff Kenny Freeman once Freeman took office in January 2019 to see if a similar program was possible in Jennings County.

From there, Freeman and Hines contacted Mike McCory, vice president of human resources at Rose Acre Farms, to set up the program.

The program went live in June, and five inmates from the Jennings County Jail began working at the plant.

While enrolled in the program, inmates hold various entry-level positions that are available at the farm. Since the beginning of the program, four inmates have been released from the Jennings County Jail and hired on full time at Jen Acre Egg Farm. Two of the now full-time employees have already been promoted — one as the head production line person and the other that has been moved to the cooler.

“These guys are really respectful, and they learn anything you teach them,” Hines said. “They’re extremely hard workers. I’m glad we have them here on the team full time.”

Not only do these inmates help fill open positions, but they also increase productivity at the farm.

“There’s a drastic increase in cases per hour packaged,” Hines said. “It really is a night-and-day difference. They’ve really helped a lot.”

One of the bright spots of the program is Darrell Mills, who continued working at the farm after his release from the jail. Mills has since been promoted to head line person on the production line at Jen Acre Egg Farm.

“He’s doing an excellent job,” Hines said. “He’s a great worker, and he’s here every day. Darrell’s got a good understanding of inventory control and producing labels. He’s the best head line person I’ve seen in years.”

In July, Mills was working a shift at the farm when he was set to be released from the Jennings County Jail. A sheriff’s deputy visited the farm and took Mills through his paperwork, releasing him from custody. After completing the paperwork, Mills remained on the job and finished his shift for the day.

“This is my blessing right here,” Mills said. “I really appreciate getting to be here and getting to have this opportunity.”

Another driver of this program was how many repeat offenders the Jennings County Jail was seeing. Being a nationwide issue, it prompted correctional facilities across the nation to come up with ways to better prepare inmates for life after they have completed their sentences.

According to a nationwide study by the National Institute for Justice, offenders who work for a private company while imprisoned “obtained employment more quickly, maintained employment longer and had lower recidivism rates than those who worked in traditional correctional industries or were involved in other-than-work activities while incarcerated.”

In the study, 82% of offenders working for private companies were arrest-free one year postrelease. In comparison, 77% of offenders in traditional correctional industries and 76% of “other-than-work” activities were arrest-free one year postrelease.

Offenders working for private companies also are more likely to be continuously employed for three years or longer than offenders who worked in traditional correctional industries or were involved in “other-than-work” activities.

Leaders at Seymour-based Rose Acre Farms are hoping that the experience and wages gained at Jen Acre Egg Farm will give the inmates positive momentum to continue a positive life once they are released.

“They get a sense of hope and accomplishment,” said Terry Anderson, southern Indiana regional manager for Rose Acre Farms. “They also get a taste of success that will make them hungry for more once they are released. As management, it is something we can go home feeling good about every day.”

As local employers grapple with labor shortages, options such as hiring inmates for part-time labor is attracting attention from other businesses.

“It’s really a win-win situation,” Hines said. “Not only does it help us out in terms of labor, but it also sets these inmates up with a chance to be successful once they are released from jail. I hope it helps out Jennings County as a whole.”

The wages the inmates earn while working at Jen Acre Egg Farm are deposited onto a debit card, allowing them to use the funds and get a head start on life after they are released.

Once the inmates are released from jail, Hines puts in extra effort to make sure his new full-time employees have everything they need to get adjusted to their new life.

“Mike has gone above and beyond many times to make sure they have everything they need to get adjusted,” Anderson said. “He has made sure they have a place to stay, a way to get to work and so much more. He’s gone that extra mile to give them that support.”

Rose Acre Farms plans to continue the partnership with the Jennings County Jail, having up to five inmates on staff continually.

Rose Acre Farms Chief Operating Officer Tony Wesner believes everyone should have an opportunity at a second chance.

“My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave me a second chance, so I think it’s only right to give others that second chance,” he said. “I think that this a great program, and I hope that we can do it at all of our locations across the country.”

Clay Brown is the communications coordinator for Seymour-based Rose Acre Farms. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display