Idaho inmates find opportunities in agriculture: 'life takes you on different roads'
by Kristen McPeek
December 6th, 2021
BOISE, Idaho (CBS2) — Nonviolent offenders who are incarcerated in Idaho’s prison system have the opportunity to work in agriculture while serving a sentence.
Christopher Henry, an Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) Resident Trainee says he never pictured himself working in agriculture.
“I never pictured myself in prison, but here I am. So life takes you on different roads,” Henry said.
The roads at CS Beef Packers, one of the employers in the program, are aimed to lead in positive directions. Like many businesses across the Treasure Valley, the labor shortage has been impacting the meat processor. However, the goal behind the IDOC resident training program holds value beyond hiring employees.
“There's not a large population of people with the skill set that is required in one of these facilities,” said Steve Cherry, CS Beef Plant Manager. “So we really started looking at. OK, where's our continuing labor source going to come from benefiting CS Beef business, to also give a hand up to some folks, and help them better prepare for that transition back into society. Our intention in this program is not as a labor source. This is truly embraced as a training program.”
The resident trainee program at IDOC allows for incarcerated individuals to work a full-time job while serving a sentence. Just like any job, they earn a competitive wage after going through the application process.
It’s proven to be successful, as employees like Fred Bonning continue his work at CS Beef after serving his sentence.
“They helped me have a plan. So when I got out, It was really easy to come in here and to adjust, and to get to work,” Bonning said. “My chances of making it in the community was very good.”
There is also a sense of camaraderie between the employees and resident trainees. Those in this program say they not only found support in employment, but they also found a family.
“It’s a lot of great people, a lot of relatable people down to earth, loving, caring, good people,” said Justin Pedersen, a Packaging Department Lead and former resident trainee. Pedersen said his job at CS Beef was supportive during difficult times.
“I lost my family while I was incarcerated, and this has become my new family,” said Pedersen.
And while employees that CBS2 spoke with say they’ve experienced a great work environment, IDOC Division Chief Todd Plimton says that valuable skills are gained as well.
“What you find is that those skills can translate to a lot of other employers,” Plimton said. “We're going to teach them the skills necessary to become a functional part of our community.”
These skills are something that’s allowed for personal growth.
“I like waking up and coming in,” said resident trainee, Adam Christianson. “It makes me feel good knowing that I accomplished something at the end of the day, go back, might be worn out, but I'm still good.”
Resident trainees can support their families with their income, save money to start their journey after they’re released. This money can also be used to pay back IDOC restitution fees.
Many of the trainees CBS 2 spoke with say they are already setting goals for their future.
“When I get out I want to come back and now be employed here again as a civilian for more money, and hopefully, later on, start my own business building log homes.” said resident trainee Terry Anderson.
Resident trainees say they're setting the foundation for bigger things ahead.
“I did everything it took to get here. It's what I wanted just because I knew would keep me on a positive track,” Henry said.
Plimton says they hope to continue to grow the program as it has proven to be successful.
“While we've got a commendable 20% retention rate out of this program, how do we make that 25% How do we make that 30%?” Plimton said.