A beekeeping educational initiative is keeping both male and female Aboriginal prisoners busy at Western Australia’s West Kimberley Regional Prison (WKRP).

Determined to take their knowledge back to Country when they are released, the inmates are finding hope and purpose in their learning.

One Aboriginal prisoner said she loved being a part of the beekeeping program.

“Growing up in the Miriuwung community we used to go out and find trees that had bees in them and get the honey,” she said.

“Having the bee knowledge to take back to the community to set up a hive when I’m released, we won’t have to disturb the wild bees anymore.”

Another prisoner said working with the bees was a useful way of passing the time.

“And there’s the added benefit of helping to save the bees from going extinct,” he said.

A third prisoner said she liked bees because the queen is the boss and the top mother who everyone respects and listens to—just like in Aboriginal communities where the female Elders hold sway.

The prisoners live in a purpose-built facility that is uniquely designed to support Aboriginal culture, kinship and connection to Country.

Grouped according to family ties and security rating, the inmates live in self-contained houses and are free to roam the extensive grounds during the day.

The grounds, filled with boab trees and native flora, also host 11 beehives.

Inmates at West Kimberley Regional Prison are learning how to properly beekeep hives. Photo supplied by West Kimberley Regional Prison.

Jason Bradley, a Satellite Trainer who trains staff at the Derby prison, runs the beekeeping program.

“I put a business case to the WKRP senior management team to set up an industry with a paid position for prisoners to work as beekeepers while we slowly build additional hives,” Bradley said.

Alongside Vocational Support Officer Warren Schofield, Bradley has trained five prisoners enrolled in the WKRP Beginner for Beekeeping Program, which was created using a simplified scaffold of the TAFE Certificate III in Beekeeping.

Prisoners learn about safety protocols, the anatomy of beehives, types of bees and larvae, how to use equipment and how to extract honey from a hive.

“The prisoners are really interested and some have said once they complete the program they will go on to the Cert III,” Bradley said.

He said the prisoners, who are proud to be extracting the honey, are looking to sell it outside the prison once the business grows.

“We’re looking at involving Prison Industries here and getting prisoners to work on building hives and frames,” Bradley said.

“It wouldn’t be too ambitious to think we could soon be selling start-up kits to Kimberley residents, complete with bees and queens.”

The WKRP is working in collaboration with the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) to ensure the Kimberley remains free of any threats to bees, including small hive beetles and varroa mites.

“European honey bees are endangered so we’re teaching the prisoners about the importance of biosecurity,” Bradley said.

Bradley said last year the Department donated $60,000 worth of commercial honey-extracting equipment to assist the initiative.

“Both VSO Schofield and myself tell the prisoners they might as well use their time in here to take advantage of learning and getting as many qualifications as they can,” he said.

“We want to set them up to succeed on the outside.”

By Imogen Kars