Prison Series: Sustainability in Prisons Network Goes National by Paul M. Sheldon

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On January 27, 2014

With the completion of its second national Symposium, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the Sustainability in Prisons Project Network has officially gone national.

The first symposium was held at The Evergreen State College, led by faculty member Carri LeRoy, Ph.D. and Washington Department of Corrections’ Dan Pacholke, to introduce participants to the multi-faceted activities going on in Washington State prisons. The second Symposium, held March 20th-22nd, 2013, at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, convened corrections representatives from nine jurisdictions in six states, along with academic experts, scientists, and national authorities on sustainability in corrections, to share resources, ideas and action plans for implementing sustainability-oriented practices and science-based education and research programs in corrections facilities nationwide.

The Utah Symposium provided an opportunity to continue and extend the work begun at last September’s first Symposium at The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington.  36 participants representing teams from California’s Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County, Oregon’s Multnomah County, the State Departments of Corrections of Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, California, Utah, and Washington, as well as science faculty from The Evergreen State College, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, University of Utah, and three national resource people, convened to present action plans to implement science research, conservation biology, and science/sustainability education as well as cost-savings and revenue-generating programs in detention centers and incarceration facilities nationwide.


The event began with a poster session and included team presentations, panel discussions, and group visioning work. By the end of the workshop, the teams developed a vision for creating a National and International Sustainability in Prisons Project Network.


Each regional group in the emerging Network has proposed sustainability-oriented projects, all of which are based on science and technology, job training, safety, and security.

Science programs often feature propagation and reintroduction of endangered species, such as butterflies, frogs, and native prairie plants.

One of the interesting programs under development by the Ohio Department of Corrections is the proposal to evaluate the feasibility and benefits of breeding and reintroducing the “Eastern Hellbender” in Ohio’s rivers and streams.  paul2Led by a team of corrections professionals, scientists, the Columbus Zoo, The Wilds, and The Vera Institute of Justice, Ohio.  SPP-OH has chosen this endangered species as the focus for science education, skills training, and ecological restoration.  The “Eastern Hellbender” is one of the world’s largest salamander species, usually about 24 inches in length, but often as large as 30 inches.  To move forward with the program, the Ohio team had to research and debunk various local legends such as the hellbender being poisonous or dangerous to humans.  It is not.

Other jurisdictions, such as the Los Angeles’ County Sheriff’s Department’s Pitchess Detention Center, and the Santa Clara County’s Elmwood Complex are pursuing local, organic gardens for job training and reduced food costs, as well as restoration of local creeks and streams bordering or flowing through the residential facilities.

Oregon’s SPP has made huge strides. All the State of Oregon Prisons are involved, and offer a wide range of programming. They offer science lectures, growing Kincaid’s lupine and golden paintbrush as nectar sources for native butterflies, multiple produce-gardens, nature imagery projections in a segregated housing unit, and ongoing and increasing efficient and environmentally operations. Plans for the future include butterfly rearing and expansion in all areas of programming.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) has implemented many sustainability programs in its facilities, to build green infrastructure; reduce waste, care for animals, bring nature inside the walls, and green corrections. Already the CDCR has seen substantial energy savings and waste reductions. The state of California has discussed additional programming with the Center for Natural Lands Management, Mills College/Saint Quentin, and other potential academic and conservation partners.

Facilities and programs in more urban settings, such as Multnomah County, near Portland, Oregon are pursuing cost-saving, sustainability-oriented activities, such as, digitizing the law library (saving about $70,000 annually); upgrading the laundry facility at Inverness Jail with water recycling and energy saving systems,(saving $57,000 per year); reducing total energy use of the jails 20 percent by 2020; reducing water use in county jails 10 percent by 2015; working with food contractors to buy at least 10 percent of food locally.  Combined, these programs and practices have saved Multnomah County over $400,000, while providing increased security for staff and public and job training for inmates.

The Maryland Green Prisons Initiative is collaboration between the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), scientists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER researchers. Current programs include sustainable operations, tree planting, restoration of the American chestnut, Master Gardener certifications, and growing oysters to replenish populations of Chesapeake Bay. Complementing these sustainability programs, faculty and graduate students are planning research programs examining biodiversity patterns in the urban environment.

At the public event that capped the Workshop,  Sustainability in Prisons Project Co-Directors, Dan Pacholke and Dr. Carri LeRoy, member of the faculty at The Evergreen State College, Brittany Gallegher (The Evergreen State College), Craig Ulrich (University of Nevada), Tami Goetz (Utah Governor’s Office) and Dr. Nalini Nadkarni University of Utah), shared their inspiring stories of science education and sustainability practices leading to reduced recidivism, cost savings, and improved community relations.

—Cover Photo: Kirk Crippins—

—First Published on

For more information on the Sustainability in Prisons project, visit

Paul Sheldon is a Senior Advisor for many organizations, including and  He is on the Board of Directors of, and serves as a Founding Member of the American Correctional Association’s Clean and Green Committee.



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