When the Arizona Department of Corrections decided to at least temporarily pull inmate labor out of the public to minimize the spread of COVID-19, Hickman’s Family Farms stood to lose a meaningful portion of its workforce.

But the egg producer found an enterprising way to keep its female inmate labor and keep a steady supply of eggs going out of its facilities.

With the support of the corrections department and Gov. Doug Ducey, Hickman’s is building a dormitory for female inmates at its facility in Buckeye. When their workday is finished, the inmates are to go to the dormitory, rather than head back to the prison where they were housed. With the onsite dormitory, the inmate workers can continue to work for Hickman’s without comingling with the public or prison inmates and staff, therefore reducing the odds of the spread of COVID-19.

“Right now, we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep food on the grocery shelves in Arizona, and the continuity of this program means a lot to further that effort,” Glenn Hickman, president of the company, told Fox 10 Phoenix.

But it isn’t just consumers in Arizona that Hickman is concerned about. The company provides eggs throughout much of the western continental United States, as well as Hawaii. Since Hawaii is isolated from the rest of the country, their need is more urgent.

To ensure that the egg supply continued as demand is at unprecedented levels, that the company decided which inmate laborers were deemed critical to the operations, Hickman explained. Those were largely ones who worked with the live birds and helped grow the chicks into productive layers.

“If we were unable to give the proper immunizations and care for those chickens, we would end up potentially having a challenge in the future,” Hickman said.

Hickman’s also retained some female inmates that sanitize processing equipment.

While the company can keep a good portion of its female inmate laborers, male inmates on work release programs were lost. Most of them did maintenance work or light building, Hickman said, and the company is hiring to fill those voids.

“We’re working around that as best we can,” he said.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.