The Sustainability in Prisons Project originated in Washington State. Starting in 2003, the first five years were small scale and experimental, limited to only a few prisons. Pretty quickly, it became clear that these experiments were worth continuing. Everyone involved was delighted by the outcomes: the prison saved money on operations and infrastructure, inmates and staff had access to meaningful, creative programs, partner scientists and conservationists had new help with research and rearing endangered species, and all partners were surprised and gratified to learn that there was much to learn from each other.
The efforts were formalized as an inter-agency agreement between The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections in 2008. Within a few years, SPP-Washington programs were in place in all 12 state prisons, and they were hosting visitors from across the country and around the world. Now they serve as the headquarters for the SPP Network. Learn more about the site at their exceptional website: http://sustainabilityinprisons.org.
SPP-Washington program areas
In 2015, SPP-Washington includes more than 100 sustainability programs and involves dozens of partner organizations and thousands of individuals. Washington’s prisons represent a broad spectrum of population size, gender, security level and infrastructure, which maximizes the extensibility of this project to other locations. SPP serves as a model for prisons in other states and around the world, and also for residential institutions such as military bases, assisted living centers, and summer camps.
While most programs are interconnected, it is simplest to describe them in four program areas.
We inspire and train inmates and correctional staff through programs designed to improve prison sustainability and connect participants to the larger world of science and conservation. Our instructors range from biologists and farmers to business entrepreneurs and green energy experts.
With support from visiting scientists, we carry out ecological research and conservation projects involving inmates, college students, and community partners. Current projects include rearing endangered Oregon spotted frogs and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and propagating native prairie plants. SPP-Oregon and SPP-Washington are partners in the sagebrush program; in 2015, a new Washington nursery was created at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, expanding the regional capacity to restore habitat for greater sage-grouse.
We help correctional staff develop cost-effective, environmentally sound practices for operating prisons and engage offenders with direct responsibility for these activities where security is in place. Activities include recycling, composting, energy retrofits, updating purchasing policies, and organic farming.
SPP offers inmates opportunities to contribute to both inside and beyond the prison walls. Prison partnerships with nearby community organizations allow inmates to provide service dogs, restored bicycles, quilts, and fresh vegetables to individuals on the outside.