Oregon’s SPP has made huge strides. All Oregon’s DOC prisons (14 institutions) and Oregon Youth Authority (2 facilities) are on board, and offer a wide range of programs. Oregon Department of Corrections coordinates programming.
Nature Imagery Project
Snake River Correctional Institution has partnered with Utah’s INSPIRE to create a “Blue Room” in the state’s maximum security prison. Through this program, incarcerated men may choose to view nature imagery videos during their exercise time. Before they enter the Blue Room, they may choose to see and hear waterfalls, tropical rainforest canopies, or desert landscapes. Time magazine named the program as one if the best inventions of 2014.
The program is offered in hopes that it will reduce psychological stress for the viewers—many studies have pointed to the therapeutic benefits of even brief encounters with nature. INSPIRE is formally studying effects of the program, how it impacts both inmates and staff in the area. Informal observations have been positive enough that the program has expanded to a medium-security area at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, and a few prisons in Washington are following their example.
SPP-Oregon has made the most of founding partner Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE)’s expertise in ecological restoration: they host a suite of conservation programs growing nectar plants for endangered and rare butterflies, sagebrush for endangered greater sage-grouse, and work on restoring wetlands and owl populations. Here are a few highlights of their thriving programs:
Oregon Silverspot Butterfly Project
IAE and the Sustainability Office secured a grant from “Together Green” for CCCF to grow native violets to feed the Oregon Zoo’s Silverspot butterfly caterpillars. Incarcerated women tend the violets and harvest leaves every week for delivery to the zoo. Once the caterpillars begin their metamorphoses to butterflies, and no longer require the food source, A DOC crew will plant the violets to restore the butterfly’s wild habitat.
In a video on the program, violet technicians describe positive impacts of the program on their lives.
IAE and the Sustainability Office introduced a native plant propagation project at SRCI. The project is funded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to propagate 10,000 sage brush plants. The plants will restore the Shumway fire site which burned in 2013, providing habitat for greater sage-grouse. The nursery program provides horticulture training, and offers education on conservation issues and strategies. Other potential benefits include adults in custody feeling more comfortable working in teams, improved leadership skills and increased confidence.
Technicians in the program appreciate the chance to work on something positive, and talk with each other about the wildlife and habitats they benefit. A BLM video provides a nice overview of the program.
SPP-Oregon has integrated education throughout their programs, and has created diverse opportunities for certification: environmental literacy, beekeeping (both described below), plus green chemistry janitorial, and sustainable gardening.
Roots of Success
Roots of Success is a job readiness program that strengthens academic skills while also promoting sustainable practices inside the facilities. It prepares the adults in custody to work in a growing green economy upon re-entry. The curriculum empowers youth and adults from under-served communities to gain the knowledge and skills required to accelerate the transition to a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable society.The environmental literacy and job readiness curriculum includes modules on:
- Fundamentals of Environmental Literacy
- Food, Health, & Agriculture
- Community Organizing & Leadership
- Application & Practice
- Financial Literacy & Social Entrepreneurship
Roots of Success is currently offered at 6 prisons.
In April 2014, our organization installed three bee colonies at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, and these had tripled in size by July 2014. The beekeepers and correctional facility personnel, including Bruce Roller, Karessa Torgerson, Bunny Cramer, Ann Murray, Marsha McCorkhill, Marie Sanchez, and Chad Naugle, have helped a group of very enthusiastic participants care for the hives. The new beekeepers were selected from a large pool of applicants based on their excellent performance at the prison and interest in the project. They have enjoyed classroom time and frequent visits to the hives, where each of them perform inspections and updates in hive management journals.
Each participant is currently pursuing Apprentice certification in the Washington State Master Beekeeper program. Afterward, many plan to apply to earn the Journeyman certification through the Oregon State Extension Office as continued education when they release. Some of the skills they have acquired from this class include:
- Short and long term planning skills
- Detailed and consistent record-keeping and organized documentation
- Strong grasp of cause and effect
- Team building with leaders and other participants
- Increased sense of empathy and appreciation for natural systems
- Better concentration developed through practice of working with bees to assess hive status and colony health without causing undue damage or chaos. The bees naturally enforce this practice.
- Experience overcoming stress and anxiety while working towards a positive outcome. Emotional resilience: losing a colony of bees can be very disappointing; starting again requires perseverance and positive action in the face of negative emotions
Sustainable Gardening Classes
DOC has gardens in all 14 facilities. Lettuce Grow works with the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Office to bring in Master Gardeners to educate and teach vocational training skills around sustainability and organic gardening practices. The adults in custody must complete the Sustainable Gardening course and 30 hours of volunteer service (which is tracked by the counties OSU extension office) in order to take and hopefully pass the final exam to earn a Certificate of Home Horticulture.
The prison gardens are on track to produce 300,000 pounds of produce in 2015. Much of the bounty goes to the prison kitchen so that inmates may have more fresh food on the menu. The rest of the harvest goes to food banks around the state: they donated 47,301 lbs to food banks and other community outreach programs in 2014.
Seeds to Supper
The Seeds to Supper program is a partnership with the Oregon Food Bank and Oregon State University Extension Service to teach gardening to adults in custody, and it is offered in 8 of Oregon’s 14 prisons. The class is 5 week of hands-on work in the garden. Each student preps, sows, and tends their own garden bed. The food from the program is donated back to the back into the Oregon Food Bank— over 20,000 lbs. were donated in 2013.
Eco-psychology Project Program
Members of the Eco-psychology in Counseling Program at Lewis & Clark Graduate School propose the development of a therapeutic gardening program supplemental to the established gardening program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. Program participants will have the opportunity to work side-by-side with and receive individual and group-based support from graduate students enrolled in master’s level counseling training.
This will explore the relationship between mental health and well-being in relation to the natural environment as well the ways in which a counseling psychologist can contribute to conservation and sustainability. The goal of the program is to develop and encourage participants’ sense of self-efficacy and empowerment through gardening activities that also promotes social skills. Oregon SPP expects this program to also reduce disciplinary infractions and acute mental health crises for participates.
Oregon DOC has invested in contracts to recycle nearly all commodities in the waste stream. Chip bags, printer cartridges, personal and beauty care products and oral care products are up-cycled to TerraCycle. Twelve prisons compost their food waste, and one has a worm-composting program. All have completed the transition to green chemistry janitors. Oregon Department of Corrections Sustainability Plan is available online, and outlines sustainable operations (and other) goals for the 2013 – 2015 Biennium. In 2014, Oregon DOC’s sustainabiltiy programs were recognized with three awards, including the Governors 2014 Sustainability Award.
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) has been raising puppies at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for 13 years. CCI began at Coffee Creek, and has expanded to 14 facilities nation-wide.
The puppies spend about 18 months with inmate trainers at Coffee Creek. Incarcerated trainers receive guidance from a CCI trainer weekly, and learn how to teach the dogs about 30 commands. After graduation from Coffee Creek’s Puppy Program, the dogs return to CCI for evaluation and more training to become one of four types of assistance dogs.
According to a 2014 story in the Oregonian: “The 46 inmates that have gone through Coffee Creek Puppy Program have a 0 percent recidivism rate, meaning none of them go on to commit future crime.”