Georgia Prison Beekeeping Program

History | Current Status | How To Sponsor | Current Contacts


The Georgia prison beekeeping program began when Bear Kelley, then the President of Georgia Beekeepers Association heard from Rhett Kelley, a GBA Director of an inmate teaching beekeeping at Smith State Prison, Glennville, Georgia in the fall of 2014. After contacting the Warden of that facility and obtaining permission to visit, Bear and Rhett met with the inmates involved and the inmate who was teaching the course. They had a few ragged hives that they were trying to take care of with the materials on hand. Since there were about 15 inmates involved and two prison officers very interested, Bear decided to help them expand the apiary and create an authorized prison education program. Jennifer Berry of the University of Georgia Bee Lab was brought in and they met with Mr. Gary Lister, Georgia Department of Corrections, Director of Vocational and Post-Secondary Education . Mr. Lister was enthused about the idea and wheels started turning. Jennifer arranged for Brushy Mountain Bee suppliers to donate a pallet load of hives and other equipment needed. The Georgia Beekeepers Association paid for the shipping. Jennifer also arranged for Dr Keith Delaplane’s book First Lessons in Beekeeping to be provide for the inmates to study.

After about a year of studying, Jennifer organized a crew from the UGA Beekeeping Institute to go to Smith SP and administer the Certification test normally given at Young Harris. Assisted by Rhett Kelley, the test was given in May 2015 to 15 inmates and two officers. There were no failures that day and all inmates became Certified Beekeepers. The certification is now part of their education record and the apiary is buzzing.

Current Status

Since then, Stacy Rivera, Georgia Dept. of Corrections, Program Development Consultant for Post - Secondary Education has joined in to help coordinate programs between facilities. Stacy continues to be primary contact for getting things done in the Southern part of the state. There have been 12 more inmates brought into the program at Smith SP and they too were Certified by UGA, and are under new leadership in the facility program. Smith SP has a healthy apiary and soon will become the facility producing queen bees for other facilities. They are sponsored by the Ogeechee Beekeepers in Statesboro, Georgia, with Paul Peterson as primary instructor.

Four more facilities have been brought into the program as well. They are:
  • Ware State Prison, Waycross, Georgia with Warden Tom Gramiak behind the program.
  • Dooly SP, Unadilla, Georgia sponsored by the Heart of Georgia Beekeepers, Rick Moore is the Primary instructor.
  • Lee Arrendale SP (women’s facility), Alto, Georgia sponsored by NE Georgia Mountain Beekeepers, Julia Mahood primary Instructor.
  • Al Burrus SP, Forsythe, Georgia, sponsored by the Potato Creek Beekeepers. Brutz English, Primary Instructor
Although Bear visits each facility periodically and teaches a class, he has arranged for the local bee club to sponsor the local prison. Their membership has no problem teaching the inmates about beekeeping and mentoring them with the established hives on site. It is not known exactly how many hives are at each site, because they continue to grow in numbers. At the last count there were 38 hives operating behind bars! Furthermore, the Ware facility has a wood shop and has agreed to build bee boxes for use in the system. Jennifer Berry, Broadus Williams, Paul Peterson, Mark Mettler and Bear Kelley went to Smith SP on 30 and 31 August 2016 to teach a queen rearing class. But when we arrived, we found that they had lost a significant number of hives. 33 down to 6 due to a possible dosing of spray from a nearby farm field. Classes were still held for two days, but no grafting could take place until they rebuild their apiary.

Several facilities have extracted honey this year and have been invited to compete in the annual GBA honey show in October. Prize money has been donated by several GBA members to be used by the winning facility to support their apiary.

The benefits are education for the inmates; money savings for the state since they will not have to rent bees from a beekeeper to pollinate their crops at the prison farms and, of course...more honey bees. The Georgia Beekeepers Association is in support of this program and we have been contacted by five other states to learn about what we have done to get it going. If you have any other questions or want to discuss it further, I am available.

I also want to give credit to The Florida Beekeepers Assn. who created an education program for inmates in the form of a power point presentation that has been very instrumental in teaching the inmates.

Preparations for a club sponsoring a Georgia State beekeeping program should include, but are not limited to, the following points.
  1. Have the club agree that they desire or are willing to sponsor a facility
  2. Appoint (ask for volunteers) a Prison committee.
  3. Obtain approval from the State Corrections representative and the warden for that facility.
  4. Meet with the warden and establish responsibilities for the club, the prison personnel and inmates.
  5. Locate a sponsor for enough hardware for at least two hives, suits, smoker and other necessary equipment.
  6. Establish a calendar of events to include classes, delivery of equipment, bees and continuing education with all concerned.
  7. Obtain established curriculum for the education program. The recommended text book is “The First Lessons in Beekeeping” by Dr. Keith Delaplane. Other books such as Back Yard Beekeeper are recommended as well. I would caution the use of “Beekeeping for Dummies” in a program such as this.
  8. It is not necessary to have the inmates “UGA Certified”, but it is a tremendous addition to the inmate’s education file if they are. Early coordination with the UGA Beekeeping staff is essential to have the test presented at the facility.
  9. Georgia Beekeeping Association may be able to help in certain areas, so early coordination is essential here as well.
  10. Continued education on a month by month basis by the sponsor is important to ensure interest by the staff and inmates and to see the program grow.

Current Contacts for this program

Mary Cahill Roberts, President Georgia Beekeepers Association
Bear Kelley, Past President, GBA Prison Program Coordinator
Jennifer Berry, UGA Beekeeping Institute
Gary Lister, Georgia Department of Corrections Program Development Consultant
Stacy Rivera, Ga. Dept. of Corrections Inmate Services Division Vocational Programs