Santa Clara County


Horticulture students work with donated plants from Monterey Bay Nursery.


The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department has been very active in integrating sustainability into programming and operations. Santa Clara’s Bellweather team attended both national conferences, and provided vital feedback on the structure and functions of the SPP Network. Santa Clara’s Elmwood Complex houses about 3,300 men and 450 women. With an average stay of only 201 days, staff have had to show creativity, perseverance, and patience to create and maintain a sustainability culture. Thus far, they have been remarkably successful!

Horticulture and education

Early in 2014, Elmwood gained a permanent position to teach horticulture on both the men’s and women’s side of the jail. Instruction is provided by Kathleen Elliott of the Milpitas Adult Education, and her six-unit landscape program includes horticulture basics, building self-esteem and emotional intelligence, and opportunities to design landscaping projects. Outside the classroom, students have chances to put theory into practice. Recent practicum projects include:

  • Preparing and installing recycled water and drip water irrigation systems
  • converting 60,000 ft2 bare dirt into a brand new recreation yard, furnished with refurbished exercise equipment
  • designing and installing a drought-resistant landscape surrounding the facility flagpole
  • applying to a lawn conversion rebate program at the county, to support further conversion form lawn to drought-tolerant plants

Deputy Morales drives the tractor for a landscaping project at Elmwood Correctional Facility.


Inmates have been involved and invested in these projects from start to finish. They have represented their work to the media at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and have shown tremendous pride in the program.


A worm bin at Elmwood Correctional Complex shows a healthy vermicomposting system inside.


Sustainable Operations

Early in sustainability efforts, Deputy Jose Morales proposed cutting the number of dumpsters at the facility by more than half, and this change brought immediate savings of $5,500 a month. Ongoing efforts to reduce waste have sustained these savings, and additional improvements have added to them. In the jail kitchen, inmates have embraced the responsibility of minimizing waste, and where there used to be 20 bags of garbage, now there are only 3.

With frequent turnover in the living units, education and training must be repeated frequently to be effective; even so, staff have remained committed to new practices.

In December 2013, Santa Clara’s team created this video for Santa Clara’s Public Safety and Justice Meeting.