Now Playing:


Environment | local | Economy

NW Prisons Cut Waste, Prepare Inmates For Green Jobs

Remember when prison inmates used to stamp license plates and build furniture? Now they're just as likely to work at a recycling center or in a plant nursery.

You might say the green revolution has come to prison. Correspondent Austin Jenkins goes behind the scenes at the Stafford Creek lock-up near Aberdeen, Washington.

Out behind the prison there's a sprawling greenhouse. Inside a half dozen or so inmates painstakingly drop seeds into rows of yellow plant-starter tubes.

This is part of a broader project to restore native plants to places like the Fort Lewis Army base.

Daniel Smith: "We're germinating these seeds into little sprouts. We have two tables full  down there that have already sprouted for prairie restoration."

Daniel Smith is one of the inmates planting seeds. He's in prison for manufacturing meth. He says working on this project has helped him understand the environmental impact of his crime.

Daniel Smith: "I've really realized the damage that was caused by the chemicals and whatnot that I was playing with and whatnot when I was out there and I just feel I can use this to be a better person once I return to society."

This planting program is just one example of the Sustainable Prisons Project — a joint venture between the Washington Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Backed by a two-year, $300,000 grant, four Washington prisons are finding ways to "go green."

Jeff Muse with Evergreen manages the program.

Jeff Muse: "These are essentially small cities running 24-7. If we can make them more sustainable not only will it save money, save natural resources, but be an example for all kinds other institutions such as military bases, summer camps, hospitals, schools."

That means the prisons are reducing water and electricity use. But they're also recycling everything they can down to the prison-issue shoes that inmates wear. Even composting is catching on behind bars.

At Stafford Creek there's a giant worm bin. Here three inmates chop up old lettuce and shovel it into the bin.

Jeff Herrigon is locked-up on a drug conviction. He says he'd never heard of a worm bin before he got to prison.

Jeff Herrigon: "It's all good knowledge for everybody especially that you see all in the news and all in the papers — sustainability, using resources, all the stuff that we do here which is stuff that I never really thought of in my life until I came here and actually started looking at all this and said actually this is kind of cool how they do it."

At Stafford Creek the goal is to reduce the amount of garbage the prison sends to landfills each year from 1200 tons down to just 200. But the Sustainable Prison Project also has a loftier and harder to measure goal: to prepare inmates for the green economy once they‚re released from prison.

More News

More OPB