Prison-life operates around the clock, draining on both resources and funds. One example is the Department of Corrections in Washington, a facility responsible for 16,000 inmates in 15 Washington prisons that runs at an annual cost of $1 billion. These centers are increasingly unsustainable — a point of much concern among environmentalists — but with the mantra “Doing good while we’re doing time”, the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) works to lessen the economic impact of prisons. The SPP aims at making these institutions more responsible through recycling and composting initiatives, alongside other projects such as bee keeping and planting.

Started in 2008 with a $ 300,000 contract, the project continues to build on its initial objective of energy and water conservation, waste reduction and the construction of green facilities. With an organic farm helping to provide for the local food bank, the initiative is thinking of the different ways it could be of benefit to the community. Focusing on four facilities in southwest Washington, correctional staff are helping to develop this innovative range of environmental projects. For instance, the Prarie Plant Project connected the SPP with The Nature Conservancy to raise endangered species of prarie plans. Those particpating in the project – sorting and planting seeds – are trained in scientific conservation and native plant horticulture.

Current practices also include organic gardening, bicycle restoration and even dog rehabilitation. The project leaders anticipate that offender participation in these activities, in the form of a prison jobs, should help develop behavior and connect participants to the larger world of science and conservation.

The initiative employs professionals and experts in fields ranging from biologists to green energy experts that work to support the project as well as evaluating the effect of these activities on the participants. If the results continue to be positive, the projects could become a blueprint for other centers.

Images courtesy of Evergreen State College