Greener Prisons: Part 2

I talked a little last time about how prison should be a horrid place. It should be a place that they never ever want to come back to no matter how difficult their lives get. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.

I’ve heard talk about the ‘inhumaneness’ of prisons. I don’t think ‘humane’ should be applied to prisons. Ever. Once you kill someone, once you rape someone, once you torture someone, you should be stripped of all your ‘rights’. Murder, rape, whatever other things that strip someone else of their basic right to live are things that are all, for the most part, universally unacceptable. I honestly have no idea how this would happen, but I guess there is a chance that this sense would skip some people and if it did then we have a serious, serious problem. Whether people really don’t know that these things are wrong or whether they just don’t care is a question that I don’t have the answer to. In any case, prison should be a place where serious thought is given to how a person could or should change their life.

Prison should be a punishment. It should be the worst place on Earth. It should give them a shock in their system and gives them a reason to think about the path they are on and give them a reason to change. Of course, none they can’t change if we as a society never give them a chance. Throughout their time in prison they should be able to work their way up through a reward system. They should be shown what it is like to have responsibility, to have some trust them and get rewarded when they show promise. Usually prisons have a system in place where they are rewarded with a job or into a lower security prison. Those are two good options I guess unless they want to be lazy and not work, but I don’t think they really give prisoners enough coping skills to prepare them for the outside world. That’s why I like prison programs. The programs teach them new skills that they can use when they get out, makes them work maybe even to the point that they’re so exhausted they don’t energy to fight, helps them learn about responsibility or teaches them to handle their emotions.

Green programs have an added bonus. Several of these articles say that the benefits of the programs are that environmental technology and products are becoming more popular. The programs give prisoners skills that will help them out of prison.

Washington and Oregon have pretty good programs. Oregon seems to have a pretty good general understanding of what works when reducing recidivism. They even have some of the lowest rates in the country. Belfair, Wash. has a butterfly research program. Selected prisoners raise rare butterflies and help the college with their research. The prisoners are co-authored on any published research. One prisoner even said that she found her purpose. That’s what it’s all about, people. Cedar Creek, the same one I mentioned yesterday, is raising bees and endangered frogs.

Cedar Creek

Italian honey at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in rural southwest, Wash.,

Ohio is also has some green programs in place. It saved over $13,000 in 201 by sorting waste into recycling and composting piles.

Some prisons have gardens (some prisons go as far as to make them organic gardens) Of these I think gardening is my favorite. There are actually studies done about the neurological effects of gardening. For inmates it would probably help even more. It would give them a feeling of control to be able to create something like that and be the owner of even a tiny patch of ground. It would give a feeling of accomplishment. Oftentimes, the prisons will sell the produce or give it homeless shelters. The fresher the produce the more nutrients it has. Sometimes negative feelings come from a lack of nutrients, so this could also help them once they get out of jail. Also, it would help them because they have to spend less money on food.


Inmates check on plants in one of the organic gardens at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Washington


If prisons have any kind of green policies in place, the usually include alternative energy, which they sometimes use to heat water, recycling and compost sorting, and some have rain water collection systems and use the water to flush toilets.

These prisons are doing better than some of us are. I say it may be time to step up our game.


Greener Prisons

The prison system is a very inefficient system.  Society and laws are set to bring nothing but a vicious cycle and unnecessary waste. Prisons should be the worst place on earth. I’ve heard of people going out of their way to get in trouble just so they can get a free meal and have a place to stay.  A free ride for criminals is the last thing prison should be. I’ve heard that prison is hell on earth. I think prison systems are interesting, I think the prisoners are interesting, all of it I find quite interesting, so I watch shows about it from time to time. They say it’s the worst place on Earth, yet they keep coming back. I have a “but” coming next time I post, but for now, I have this “but” some people go back just because it’s the easy way out. That shouldn’t be happening and if it does it shouldn’t be supported by the taxpayer’s dollar. It’s prison not a vacation. They shouldn’t have any luxuries. If they do, they should be the ones that pay for it. They shouldn’t be a burden to society. They should be working to pay off their debt to society (I’ll be talking more about this on Monday).

In 1975, it cost a taxpayer $200 to cover their part of the criminal justice budget. Now it cost $1,200. In 2007, states spent more than $49 billion to feed, house, clothe, treat and supervise 2.3 million offenders, the Pew Center on the States reported this year.

Partially, we can thank the war on drugs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot stupid things came from this ‘war.’ I won’t go into all of them, but the enforcing of these laws takes money. A lot of it and this extra money often come from social programs that do more good than prison. I don’t doubt for a split second that these drug related offenses shouldn’t have some kind of punishment especially for those who sell to kids, but also for those who sell or make them and even those who use them. But non-violent offenders shouldn’t be put with violent offenders. It creates a whole array of avoidable problems. If we ever want to solve a problem that arrangement has got to go. Whatever it cost to put them in the government’s custody, whatever the cost of damage should be what it cost them to get out. Instead of putting them in jail or prison to soak up more money they should have to work off the cost. Drug dealing, stealing, anything like that is usually just a way that people can make easy money. For whatever reason, maybe they couldn’t find a decent paying job or maybe they just didn’t want to have to work harder, they turn to crime. Making them work would show them A, they can make the money if the work enough, B, it may give them a new skill set that they use next time they need work, and C, they should stay out of trouble because they don’t want to have to do that kind of work again. The intensity of the work could depend on the seriousness of the crime.

Some studies are suggesting that environmental issues, not the nurture from the nature vs. nurture part of the debate, effect crime rates. It’s been pointed out several times about the poorer neighborhoods often having more landfills, pollution pumping factories, etc. The pollution is now being pointed at for because the toxic chemicals coming from these places may be responsible for learning disabilities and behavior problems.

The fact is that with our current system no one is winning. I used to think that it was their choice and it landed them in prison. Was that my problem? No. At least it shouldn’t be, but our society, all of us, is having a hand in creating this problem. Making criminals be responsible for their own actions seems like a reasonable answer, but it’s condemning them to a vicious cycle.  Society helped them give in and now we have to get them out.

The overpopulation of prisons is a social problem, but their extreme waste creates environmental ones, too. Alabama is one of the states that have had waste management issues. Their overpopulated prison generated twice as much waste than the local water treatment plant could handle. The results were extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hit clean water, it sucked up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. That led to asphyxiation of aquatic plants and animals that depended on that oxygen.

California has had a host of problems. Since 2000, eight of California’s 33 prisons have had major water pollution citations.

The disgusting list goes on and on.

We can’t fix the social or environmental problem in a day, but here are some systems that are working to fix their environmental problems.

This article features Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Washington. It talks about their compost, they compost 100 percent of their food wastes, raise bees, grow organic tomatoes and lettuce and recycle shoe scraps and have it turned into playground turf.

A convicted murderer is pictured turning the compost, a former drug addict and attempted robbery convict is in charge of the bees.

Cedar Creek, in the heart of a forest, feels more like an outdoor retreat than institutional lockup. Most of the 400 inmates are in a work program, putting in six to eight hours a day.

Cedar Creek uses 250,000 fewer gallons of water a year, saves $6,000 to $8,400 annually on garbage bills and avoided a $1.4 million sewage treatment plant upgrade.

Indiana Department of Corrections installed water boilers that run on waste wood chips, and built a wind turbine at one prison that generates about 10 kilowatts an hour and saves $2,280 a year.

North Carolina’s Department of Corrections switched to chemical-free cleaners and vegetable-based inks. This summer, because of a water shortage, inmates converted 50-gallon pickle barrels into small cisterns that capture rainwater.

Under a state mandate to reduce energy use, the Oregon Department of Corrections replaced old appliances with energy-efficient ones, installed solar water heaters and used a geothermal well to heat water. It also modified washing machines so they could reuse rinse water to wash about a million pounds of clothes a month.

At Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, Ore., inmates recycle scraps from old prison blues to make diaper bags for women’s shelters and dog beds for animal shelters.

Some prisons are alternative energy collection with solar and wind power.

Although most of these changes are being made to save money, I’m still thankful for all these improvements. Would I rather there be less people in prisons? Yeah, I would. I don’t think that change is even close to being made yet, so for now I’ll be content with these. I also think that we could be doing a lot better.