Prison Series: Green jobs training smooths reentry process by Paul Sheldon

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On January 24, 2014

With the increasing recognition of “green” technologies and practices as an effective way to save money and provide innovative sources of revenue for correctional institutions1,  many communities are also recognizing that green jobs training reduces recidivism and smooths the reentry process, by lowering barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals2.
Several programs at correctional institutions and in local communities are leading the way in demonstrating the role of “green” jobs in creating new identities for formerly incarcerated people.

Washington State’s “Sustainable Prisons Project” provides job training in scientific habitat and species restoration, by training inmates of correctional institutions to propagate grasses, frogs, and even endangered butterflies.3

Indiana’s Putnamville Correctional Facility hosts one of the nation’s first certificated vocational apprenticeship programs in recycling. Created for no cost, by a correctional officer who invited residents of the facility to sort their garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable items using colored trash cans, Putnamville’s program is now accredited and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, providing a model for other institutions seeking to provide job training for little or no cost. In addition, the program has resulted in savings of more than $100,000 in trash hauling fees, and also generates more than $100,000 in additional revenue from the sale of recycled items.4

The Insight Garden Program at California’s San Quentin State Prison trains offenders and provides certificates in organic gardening. These certificated individuals are then able to locate landscape gardening jobs through innovative partnerships with community-based organizations such as Planting Justice, in Oakland. Planting Justice employs formerly incarcerated individuals in transitional landscape jobs, to give them successful employment records, while seeking long-term, full-time employment in California’s landscape industries5. Graduates of the Insight Garden Program have been shown to hold a greatly-reduced rate of recidivism over three years following release from incarceration6.

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Photo Credit: Kirk Crippins

Programs such as these provide offenders with a new identity – instead of returning to gangs, drugs, and violence, they can become part of the “green” economy, helping their country to pioneer new ways of living in balance with natural systems and community institutions.

These programs are just a few of the many examples emerging from innovative partnerships between correctional facilities and local communities, to use the inspiration of the new “green” economy to reduce costs, provide new sources of revenue, and reduce recidivism.

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About the author: Paul Sheldon, M.A. is a Senior Advisor to Natural Capitalism Solutions and  He is a founding member of the American Correctional Association’s “Clean and Green” Committee, and is a popular speaker and workshop leader at correctional conferences and symposiums nationwide.


1.  Sheldon, Paul and Eugene Atherton. October 2011. Greening Corrections Technology Guidebook, National Institute of Justice,
2.  Feldbaum, Mindy, Frank Greene, Sarah Kirschenbaum, et al. March 2011. The Greening of Corrections: Creating a Sustainable System.  National Institute of Corrections, NIC Accession Number 024914,, p. 19).
3., see also:
5.  and

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