In New Zealand prison, inmates learn to keep bees

Beekeeper holding bee colonyAt Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison in New Zealand, some inmates are being trained in a particular and peculiar trade for when they get released.

Five prisoners are currently studying apiculture, or beekeeping, in hopes of finding employment after serving their sentences.

The youth unit currently has three hives and a fourth is expected to be added. The unit’s youth education tutor, Brent McGrannachan, sees the beekeeping as a good way to bond with the prisoners.

“The best thing about a bee colony is they’re all dependent on each other, so you start talking about that and bringing it back to what [people] are like,” he told

The project is supported by hobbyist beekeeper and prison guard Carl McQuinlan. The majority of the honey that is produced is used in the prison kitchen or given away to food banks and needy families. McQuinlan would like to be able to produce enough that it could be sold commercially to cover some of the costs.

“I just thought it would be a good idea to share some of that knowledge with these guys and turn their lives around and (enable them to) see that it is a viable industry to be in … that on their release, there is employment there,” McQuinlan said.

The honey business is especially lucrative due to rising manuka honey prices in recent years. Manuka honey is only produced in Australia and New Zealand from the nectar of the manuka tree. It is popular due to the belief that it has anti-bacterial properties. According to, a 200-liter drum of manuka honey could go for $10,600 nowadays.

Like the gold rush, this million-dollar industry has attracted a multitude of people, including some rather unsavory characters. Stolen hives and counterfeit honey have become a problem.

Legitimate beekeepers, who have been having to compete with dishonest apiarists and motorcycle gangs stealing hives, are skeptical about prisoners’ learning the trade.

“I don’t know if we need a lot of ex-convicts in the industry,” said Neil Mossop, Bay of Plenty honey producer. “We’ve got a few questionable people … already, to say the least.”

The director of Hawke’s Bay prison, George Massingham, isn’t sorry for giving the prisoners skills to use once released.

“On the outside, these guys have equal rights to everybody else to live in New Zealand without being tarred,” he said. “They’ve done their crime, they’re doing the time. My job is to get them out and make them good citizens.”

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