Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Washington State Prisons: Green Job Training and Sustainability

I came across this article in The Grist the today. (Washington State Prisons Pursue Sustainable Practices, Green Collar Job Training by Sarah van Schagen) Though they have a lot of interesting articles circulating about, this one I thought was particularly interesting. It's about a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Evergreen State University in Washington, and the Washington state prison system. It's called the Sustainable Prisons Project and it's changing the way Washington state prisons are training offenders for the workforce.

Jason Chandler plants Walla Walla Sweet Onions in the
organic garden at Stafford Creak Corrections Center
Photo: Sarah van Schagen

The Sustainable Prisons Project's website states their mission is "to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners." They achieve this by providing offenders with green job training. It is so far a win-win situation as "the scientists get cheap (and eager) labor, while the offenders get the opportunity to participate in meaningful work."

Offenders' task vary from tending the prison's organic garden (the produce is used in the prison's kitchen), separating recyclables from the prison's waste stream, beekeeping, and attending to composting worms. The offenders can also participate in a variety of conservation efforts as well. One project led by The Nature Conservancy involves planting native grass seeds as part of a federally funded prairie restoration project. Other offenders "are also helping breed endangered spotted Oregon frogs and “farm” mosses for the horticultural trade (which aids in preventing unsustainable harvesting from old-growth forests)."

This training allows the offenders to have the opportunity to get involved in science, develop their critical thinking skills, and develop needed skills that could help them in the job market after serving their time in prison. The program is also helping the state prison system money. At the Cedar Creek facility, "efficiency upgrades like low-flow toilets and showers and a rainwater catchment system helped save 250,000 gallons of water in the summer alone. And the gardening, composting, and recycling efforts are saving the facilities thousands of dollars every year."

The Sustainable Prisons Project is currently in practice at 3 state prisons in Washington. The project hopes to expand the program to all prisons in the state. Since correctional facilities as basically like small cities, they hope their example can be followed by other state prisons, summer camps, military bases, hospitals, and schools.

To find out more information about this project, I recommend reading the entire article.

Photo by Sarah van Schagen

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