How do we evaluate our programs?

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

In addition to coordinating the lecture series at the women’s prison, I help conduct the formal evaluation of our wider educational efforts in four corrections centers. This behind-the-scenes work comprises much of my job as a graduate assistant in the Sustainable Prisons Project. It also provides data for my thesis in the Master of Environmental Studies Program at The Evergreen State College.

Today, I conducted my first interview! A bit nervous, I rather mechanically read from the scripted questions, but I expect things to go more smoothly as I become comfortable with the process. Already, I have a sense of how some of the questions need to be reworded and which ones could be dropped altogether. I am finding that this is part of the fun and creativity of evaluation.

Thankfully, I have the help of the professional firm David Heil and Associates, which has extensive experience in the assessment of informal, science-based educational programs. With its guidance, since April 2009 I have administered and analyzed hundreds of surveys from participants in our educational programs and science projects. Imagine the scene, both before and after a presentation, as prisoners and officers share their thoughts about plant and wildlife ecology, climate change or the green economy!

Staff at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center complete educational surveys prior to the start of our endangered frog project (photo: Jeff Muse).

Staff at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center complete educational surveys prior to the start of our endangered frog project. Photo: Jeff Muse.

Interviews are the latest method to be added to our repertoire. Talking with guest presenters in our science and sustainability lecture series, I gather everything from their personal and professional backgrounds to their experiences as an educator. This information helps us develop an effective and mutually beneficial experience for everyone involved. Soon, we will begin interviewing a subset of inmates and correctional staff.

Due to the variability of our current educational programs and the small sample sizes in our science projects, our preliminary report will not include extensive quantitative statistics, though this is our long-term goal with continued funding and greater participation. For now, we are working with David Heil and Associates to assess multiple data points, which can help us determine what our next steps should be.

This evaluation is exploratory in nature, for the project itself as well as for me!

Health conference for incarcerated women

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Sarah Clarke:

Last week, I met with staff at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) to help plan the prison’s annual conference for female offenders. Fun-filled, productive meetings are the hallmark of my time with WCCW, and this meeting was no exception as laughter and enthusiastic ideas pervaded the gathering.

We met to plan an agenda that introduces diverse aspects of healthy living – physical, spiritual, emotional and environmental. As the planner of the environmental portion of the conference, I am tasked with finding presenters whose work illuminates the links between personal and environmental health. This task requires some ingenuity as it can be a stretch to combine the two, but find those presenters I will!

Already, we’ve lined up our first guest: Dr. Frances Solomon, a toxicologist with Washington State University and University of British Columbia. She will present on toxins in household products (e.g., cosmetics, children’s toys) and how they can affect human health, the health of other organisms and, more broadly, the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

I look forward to planning our monthly lecture series at WCCW, which will begin after the September conference and run through next spring. It is exciting and rewarding to work with people who care deeply about the well being of incarcerated women. Realizing how much we all have in common – prisoners, correctional staff and community supporters – has been a huge awakening for me. Before starting this job, I thought that prisons were heartless, but now that stereotype has been blown out of the water.

The trouble with crickets

Blog post by Graduate Assistant Liesl Plomski:

Folks love to see the endangered Oregon spotted frogs being raised by inmates at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). They look so cute, little and green with red bellies. But in reality, they are ferocious predators that consume up to 8,000 crickets a week! Last weekend alone, we cleaned out the entire cricket supply in Olympia’s two largest pet stores.

Twice a week, I order 4,000 crickets to be shipped FedEx to Harry and Al, the CCCC inmates who lead this project. I’m learning that many things can go wrong when you ship crickets across the country. For example, we recently received a box with a hole in its side – and only 9 crickets! This means that somewhere between Alabama and Washington State, there is a FedEx truck with 3,991 crickets running loose on board. It’s hard to divide 9 crickets among 70 frogs, so I raided the nearest local pet stores, whose staff members now know us personally.

If I ever doubt why we are trying to save this endangered species, I simply remember how much they eat. Frogs are one of the major predators that keep insect populations in check. Just think how many mosquitoes it would take to equal the weight and size of 8,000 crickets. So watch out, insect world, here come our hungry, prison-raised Oregon spotted frogs!