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Sagebrush in Prisons

The sage-grouse in the project’s new logo was drawn by a sagebrush program technician, Lawrence Jenkins.

By Stacy Moore, Institute for Applied Ecology Program Director, Ecological Education, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

“For the first time in my life I’m actually doing something right and I’m making a difference. Most importantly, I believe in what we do more than anything else in my life.” ~ Lawrence Jenkins at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington

“Yes, I’ve made mistakes, we all have, but the one I don’t want to make is missing the chance to give back to the world that has taken care of me. Given the chance, you will see the goodness in us all.” ~ Toby Jones at Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, Oregon (longer quote here)

The Sagebrush in Prisons Project is a multi-state restoration program including corrections center nurseries located in six western states: Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and Montana. The effort is led by the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), a founding partner of SPP-Oregon, with funding from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The planting crew from Snake River Correctional Institution take a moment to pose with their sagebrush plugs. Photo by Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) staff.

The programs grow sagebrush for restoration of greater sage-grouse habitat and to provide restoration ecology education and training to incarcerated men and women. Inmate crews, staff, and educators assist BLM in planting sagebrush each fall/early winter. We estimate that these programs will plant 445,000 sagebrush plants this fall!

These women work with and learn about sagebrush in the program at Montana Women’s Prison (MWP). Photo by IAE staff.

Captain McCorkhill at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility helps loads plugs ready for fall planting. Photo by IAE staff.

The Sagebrush in Prisons Project completes the full circle of a native plant’s life: from seed collection to sowing, daily care, and then planting mature plants in the fall. The program is a win-win-win for the inmates, community and the environment. Inmates giving back to the community gain a new perspective on how we treat our natural heritage and each other. The community and local habitats benefit through healthier ecosystems and more wildlife.

The program generates balance within our environment and within the everyday lives of incarcerated individuals. It gives them some access to work valued by communities inside and outside the fence, and also may be a source of meaning and pride.

It gratifying to hear what incarcerated technicians think of the program, and what it has meant in their lives. Here are more quotes from the project, these from  Idaho State Correctional Center’s program, said by crew members as they boxed up sagebrush plugs for planting last October:

“In 19 years this is the first time I’ve been able to give back to the community.”

“It is a sanctuary out here. This is a huge blessing.” 

“This brings inmates together when we can work on a project like this. It breaks the walls down where it doesn’t feel like prison so much.”

We are impressed to see a complex conservation program replicated and maintaining integrity in a variety of corrections systems—speaks to the strength of the model! We know that the program would not be possible without the efforts of inmates, corrections staff, educators, contractors, and partners. Thank you to all of you who make Sagebrush in Prisons Project possible and successful. It’s a dream come true.

Making the difference to wildlife and inmates on the England and Wales Prison and Probation Service Estate

By Dr Phil Thomas PhD. FRSA. FIIEG. MCIEEM, Ecology Lead for the UK Ministry of Justice Estates Cluster

Prisoners survey for bats at HMP Dartmoor. Photo ©Phil Thomas

I often ask myself the question: will the habitats and amazing native species still be here, and will they be here when my children’s children are grown up? Will they be reflecting on what could have been?

Where does the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) fit into nature and wildlife, and how does it reflect in its aim of serving the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts? Our duty is to look after inmates with humanity, to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives whilst in custody and following release. I’m glad to say that MoJ and HMPPS take these responsibilities seriously.

HMPPS estate is one of the largest within the MoJ portfolio, and the MoJ Estates Cluster is one of the largest built and non-built rural estates in UK Government. Thus, we face quite a challenge in protecting the property’s native flora and fauna. MoJ and HMPPs takes this responsibility seriously as well, so much so it implemented one of the first UK Government Department Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). This goes some way to supporting the UK’s commitment to halting species’ decline, as well as fulfilling MoJ’s and HMPPS obligations to a sustainable and compliant Government estate.

Prisoners on a biodiversity course within the woodland management module. Photo © Phil Thomas.

A wealth and diversity of wildlife lives and thrives around individual prison sites; with over 147 prisons across the HMPPS estate in England and Wales, the diversity of wildlife is quintessentially very rich. There are nine prison sites which are nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), including two European designated sites and two sites which are internationally designated for their wetlands and wading birds. With another 39+ sites of county and local biodiversity significance, the MoJ and its MoJ Ecology network are significantly challenged.

Social and Community Impacts

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS recognises that the actions and targets it has set for biodiversity can only be achieved through active support from corrections’ staff, and prisoners and local partners. By encouraging staff and prisoner involvement in all aspects of biodiversity within its estate, and through local community projects, HMPPS and the MoJ Ecology network can broaden its sustainable operations’ and social impacts agenda.

Prison staff on a biodiversity course within the woodland management module. Photo ©Phil Thomas

HMPPS and the MoJ Ecology network believe it’s important that all members of staff and prisoners should have access to green space and the natural world, for enjoyment, education and wellbeing. Nature’s biological diversity remains a source of constant enjoyment in people’s lives. Both the MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS aims to build upon its past successes in this field, to help form and bond closer links with prisoners and those that work in the local community promoting and protecting wildlife. Forming new partnerships and locally driven initiatives will aid in delivering BAPs, protecting important and declining wildlife, and in addressing other important social, health and wellbeing issues for inmates and staff.

The author and Gill Perkins, CEO for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, sign a Memorandum of Understanding for bumblebee conservation at the prison estate. Photo ©Phil Thomas

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS consider that active management of its designated and wildlife significant sites and natural green spaces can improve the wellbeing of individuals, encourage Restorative Justice, and address offending behaviour programmes for prisoners. As the MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS works alongside such partners as Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, County Wildlife Trusts and other nationally recognised wildlife groups and various academics, it demonstrates how wildlife and life’s rich tapestry can have widespread benefits. This includes communities beyond the prison environments—prisoners can do meaningful work that benefits local communities, and obtain transferable learning and skills that will help them secure stable employment on release.

This is one of the two hundred barn owl boxes erected on the prison estate. Photo ©Phil Thomas

Broadening the opportunities for nature conservation and wildlife protection by developing activities that are enjoyable and inclusive for both staff and inmates enables them to explore and improve the sustainability of their everyday life choices and how they impact wildlife and the outside community.  These opportunities are a key tool, in delivering such events and activities as our national BioBlitzes, our national Biodiversity Day and the annual HMPPS Wildlife Award.

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS considers that involving inmates in the protection of wildlife, events such as the HMPPS Wildlife Award, and managing priority habitats can give them a sense of accomplishment, a sense of achievement and more importantly, a sense of pride in themselves. Together these feelings and emotions can help prisoners not only get in touch with themselves, but help them become positive and active members of society and their local communities once more.

To learn more about these programs:
Prisoners build over 10,000 nest boxes for rare hazel dormice, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, 2016
Ministry of Justice and its Biodiverse Estate, National Biodiversity Network, 2014
Birdwatching takes flight in Britain’s prisons, BBC News, 2011
Jailbirds creating eco-havens in prison, The Observer, 2008
To sign up for our quarterly Ecology e-news, all you have to do is email: PLEASE SIGN ME UP. to Beatrice.finch@justice.gsi.gov.uk

Butterfly conservation takes flight in Oregon prison

Text by Ronda Naseth, Oregon Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Coordinator, Oregon Zoo
Photos by Tom Kaye, Institute for Applied Ecology, and Chad Naugle, Oregon Department of Corrections

The technicians pose with their larvae, growing in cups under energy-efficient LED bulbs. From left to right: Marisol, Carolyn, Mary, Sarah.

Sarah shows how larvae have begun webbing in preparation for diapause.

The excitement generated by the new Butterfly Conservation Lab at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is both palpable and contagious to anyone who visits. The buzz began this spring. Oregon Zoo staff began training program technicians to receive egg clusters and to raise larvae. At the same time, staff and inmates – skilled in trades from plumbing to quilting – worked to transform an empty room into a fully functioning, bright, and beautiful lab. The work being done here is groundbreaking: it expands recovery efforts for the endangered Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly from Washington to Oregon, and brings butterfly conservation work into a medium facility housing unit for the first time.

The technicians’ dedication to the work is reflected in successes so far this season. Their attentiveness allowed them to capture video of the first larvae hatching from their eggs. They enthusiastically welcomed 150 “ninjas” that were overlooked as egg clusters but suddenly appeared as larvae on our host plants. Recently, they accepted the responsibility for care of a single Oregon Zoo butterfly which elected to skip diapause (a period of dormancy, somewhat similar to hibernation), and head straight into pupation and adulthood several months ahead of schedule.

Ultimately, the technicians’ care has resulted in a 95% survival rate, measuring from the time the larvae were first big enough to count to entering diapause. Our program goals include having 500 larvae survive diapause in order to be released to the field next spring; with 935 healthy larvae currently ready to head into the overwintering stage, we are optimistic we will meet this goal!

Marisol shows a lab visitor how larvae climb to the lids of their cups to bask in the light.

Staff and technicians alike are deservedly proud of their work and of the lab itself. They actively seek opportunities to share their space and their new knowledge. They host tours, speak about the program at Toastmasters gatherings, and participate in special activities such as CCCF’s annual Through A Child’s Eyes event and a recent science lecture and media visit. Technicians share larval development with other women on their unit by displaying photos and information on the lab windows. In the technicians’ words:

“When I go to our butterfly lab, I feel a sense of peace in a world of chaos. I have a rare opportunity to sustain the life of an endangered species, which gives me a unique reward of being able to give peace back into the world.”

Sarah

“This program gives me an opportunity to give back to the Earth and not take things for granted.”

Marisol

“The Butterfly Program has been very beneficial to me as I know I’m doing something good for the environment. I also love the opportunity to work with a wonderful team!

Mary

“To be involved in this program means I am given the opportunity to be involved in my community here at Coffee Creek as well as an extension to the outside community through our partnership with the Oregon Zoo, ultimately helping to change Oregon’s environment one butterfly at a time.”

Carolyn

The butterfly crew stands under a quilt created for the lab by Oregon Corrections Enterprises quilters. From left to right: Marisol, Ronda, Mary, Sarah, Carolyn.

Nature Imagery in Prisons Project

By Nalini Nadkarni, SPP Co-Founder, John Wasiutynski, Director of the Office of Sustainability for Multnomah County, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The human race has been intimately connected with and dependent upon nature throughout its history. Our species gains numerous physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health benefits through contact with the natural world; this has been strongly demonstrated by research in a variety of settings (see library curated by the Children’s Nature Network, and another compiled by a member of the faculty at University of Washington’s College of the Environment).

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni querying inmate on which of a variety of nature images are most appealing prior to showing videos in solitary confinement cellblocks, Washington Corrections Center, Shelton, Washington. Photo by Benj Drummond.

For some people, contact with nature and the outdoors is difficult or impossible. People incarcerated in “segregation”, maximum security areas, do not have access to the “yard” or any outdoor areas inside or outside prison fences. In these cases, vicarious nature video experiences may be the only possible contact with nonhuman nature. Nature videos cannot provide full relief from of the many emotional, cognitive, and physical stresses associated with segregation, but they can reduce stress, aggression, and other negative emotions. Plus, providing nature imagery to inmates imposes little additional burden on corrections staff.

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office improved Inverness Jail’s Treatment Readiness Dorm with nature imagery. It’s a small change that creates a noticeable shift in the character of the room. Inmates’ response to this pilot was unanimously positive; following this success, staff have added nature imagery to nearly all the dorms in the two jails. Photo by Alene Davis.

Championed and supported by an inspired team, Nature Imagery in Prisons Project (NIPP) is gaining traction as a new standard for segregated housing and other areas of prisons. The NIPP team first conducted a study at Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon, which resulted in definitive findings. Interviews of staff members revealed that although many were initially skeptical about offering nature imagery to inmates, by the end of the year-long study the majority of staff recognized the offering as potentially valuable. Staff respondents agreed that the inmates became calmer after viewing the videos, and that these effects lasted for hours, with less violent behaviors and fewer angry outbursts by inmates.

Incarcerated individuals in the program reported feeling significantly calmer, less irritable, and more empathetic. Analyses of prison records revealed that those inmates who watched nature videos committed 26% fewer violent infractions compared to those without videos. More detailed program results are available in the January 2017 issue of Corrections Today and a research brief from Oregon Youth Authority.

Nature Imagery in Prisons Project has gained high-level media attention from Time magazine, MSNBC, and the Oregonian, and will be the cover story for Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment in September. As of August, 2017, there are active and in-development programs in Alaska, Nebraska, Florida, Oregon, Wisconsin, Utah, and Washington State. Oregon (Multnomah County and state corrections) and Washington State have extended the concept beyond segregation, offering nature imagery in computer labs, staff areas, day rooms, and mental health/therapeutic-focused living units.

Results from the Snake River program and staff and inmate testimonials suggest that exposure to nature imagery can be helpful. It is a low-cost, low impact intervention that is helpful in reducing disciplinary referrals, violent behavior, physiological states, and connections and reconnections to nature. More research is needed to understand specific elements of the program, and inform application nationwide.

Acknowledgments: The research team for this project includes Tierney Thys, Patricia Hasbach, Emily Gaines, and Lance Schnacker. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the University of Utah, and an anonymous donor.

This Nature Imagery room at Washington Corrections Center is accessible to 150 men with severe cognitive challenges, and can be a place for self-calming.  One of the residents said, “My mind is eased. I like to be there all the time.” SPP’s Evergreen and WA Corrections staff discuss modifications that will improve the program space. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

Roots of Success Gains Momentum at Airway Heights

Note: Roots of Success is an environmental program led by incarcerated instructors in 10 of 12 prisons in the state, and in many other corrections institutions statewide. In Washington, more than 1000 incarcerated students have graduated from the 50 hour course since 2013. More about the program here.

By Roots of Success Instructors at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Originally published by WA Corrections, Tuesday, July 11, 2017; re-printed here with permission

Roots of Success graduation photo from Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Roots of Success was created by Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, a Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the San Francisco State University, as the signature curriculum of the Environmental Literacy Curriculum Project (ELCP).

Originally, this curriculum was designed to increase environmental literacy, academic literacy, and job readiness skills. ​However, at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) this curriculum has taught inmates a fourth and much needed skill, “caring.”

In an inmate’s day-to-day journey through the Washington correctional system, and especially at AHCC, an inmate can often become disconnected from society. This has historically made the process of returning to their communities difficult. Dr. Pinderhughes’ program seeks to lessen that burden by closing inmate’s educational gap, and inspiring them to “consider the environment in their work and daily lives, develop leadership, and move people toward a place of action in order to support green pathways out of poverty, equitable green development, environmental and social justice, and community participation in decision making.” (Roots of Success, Instructor’s Manual, 2015)

After taking the course, many inmate have exhibited a profound change in their attitudes and social interactions with other inmates. In fact, AHCC administration has included this program in their “good time” restoration pathway as a means for inmates to earn back lost good time resulting from various rule violations. At the date of this article, several of the AHCC Roots of Success facilitators are successful graduates of the good time restoration pathway program. This is one of the many examples of this program’s positive impact on inmates residing at AHCC.

To find how Roots of Success has led to graduates caring more for their communities, one need to look no further than the City of Spokane, Washington, where they will find blankets made out of reclaimed used clothing (made by graduate volunteers), and fresh vegetables (grown by graduates). These resources are generated at AHCC by volunteer inmates, at no cost to tax payers, and donated to Spokane charities to help combat the cold and hunger felt by local children, individuals, and families in the Spokane area.

Already AHCC has had more than a hundred graduates of the Roots of Success program, and from those graduates, AHCC has been able to reach out into the Spokane community to begin a long needed healing process, which ever graduate now knows begins with them. What will the State of Washington and its citizens gain from this program? Mothers/daughters, and father/sons returning back to the state’s communities with an obtainable goal of helping build sustainable lifestyles. Why is this so important?​ We only have one state, and only a limited amount of resources – what better place to begin demonstrating how much we care?

Roots of Success covers 10 modules, each focused on a topic. The curriculum is solutions-based, designed to meet the needs of students not well served by mainstream education, and builds both workplace and community-based skills.

Prairie technicians visit the prairie

Text by Jeanne Dodds, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Washington Corrections Center for Women
Photos by Ricky Osborne

In May, Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) created a first-time educational experience for the prairie conservation nursery team at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). While Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) staff have had other chances to visit prairie sites, it was the first time that inmate technicians were able see for themselves the rare landscape they help restore. The WCCW team toured two partner sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management’s Violet Prairie Seed Farm, and restored prairie at Wolf Haven International. Each of these sites receives plants produced at WCCW.

At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, Prairie Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan found out that mature Balsamorhiza deltoidea flowers smell like chocolate! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We toured the Wolf Haven restoration site with plant conservation specialists. We observed recovering populations of golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), one of the endangered plants cultivated by the technicians at WCCW, and a species critical to Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly recovery. At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, the farm manager and work crew members presented some of the techniques and skills necessary to produce native seed on a large scale.

These site visits provided context and information to enhance the work of the technicians in the Conservation Nursery, and also adds education, training, and connections for their futures.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie, Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott, and Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie uses a hand lens to examine a Lomatium species at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott with rows of Balsamorhiza deltoidea, one of the primary plant species grown at WCCW. Photo by Carl Elliott.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan and Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds in the fields of Plectritis congesta at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. The site visits were the technicians’ first opportunity to see the species they grow as mature plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Now at Wolf Haven International, Conservation Nursery Technician Ambrosia Riche looks closely at Armeira maritima in full bloom in the wild. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A native sweat bee on Armeria species; as a part of the Conservation Nursery educational program, technicians learn about the importance of native pollinators in prairie ecosystems. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Another species grown extensively at WCCW, Castilleja hispida blooms vibrantly in the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster, Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie, Ambrosia Riche, Samantha Morgan, and Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott discuss Mima mound prairie topography. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan, Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds, and Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster identify native prairie plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Corrections Officer Kyra Cammarata and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ambrosia Riche and Ashley McElhenie sample edible Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Thanks in part to SPP’s conservation programs, Castilleja levisecta has returned to the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie identify prairie plant species with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A visit from a beautiful wolf, named Myta Jr., during our tour of Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The path to the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie and WCCW Conservation Nursery Liaison Scott Skaggs with the massive branches of the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Building the pool of environmental instructors for the women’s prisons

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On April 28th, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes trained and certified 22 women at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) as Roots of Success Instructors. The training was a great success, and we are pleased to have reinforced the pool of women who can teach the curriculum—that’s the only way to meet the demand! We hear from both WA Corrections staff and Roots of Success graduates that this program is highly regarded: it creates respectful relationships within the prison community, and it’s an effective tool for building skills for life and work. Those testimonials line up with results from program surveys that show increased knowledge and skills in multiple ways.

Congratulations to the instructors and a special thanks to Raquel and Chad Flores from Roots of Success, Vicki York and Paula Andrew from WCCW, Dagoberto Cabrera from MCCCW, and all DOC staff who helped make this training possible! We can’t wait to see what the newly certified instructors accomplish! Please enjoy our  photo gallery of the training.

Roots instructors are asked to think about difficult questions and find solutions together. They received guidance on how to instruct when the content is difficult and complex issues, and how to encourage full engagement and critical thinking from every student and themselves. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were encouraged to ask lots of questions. Dr. Pinderhughes found this group to be impressively engaged and thoughtful. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

One instructor candidate shares her thoughts and experiences as Raquel Pinderhughes listens. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were selected by WCCW and MCCCW staff members. They were picked because of their dedication to environmental issues and their desire to learn and do more. Congrats to the new instructors for their hard work and dedication! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Vicki York, a WCCW staff superstar, originally attended the class just to observe. However, she found herself so engaged that she herself earned a instructor certificate too! Go Vicki! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Raquel Pinderhughes came from San Francisco to train the new WCCW and MCCCW instructors. Her tireless effort and enthusiasm is an inspiration. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We are so lucky to have an engaged and thoughtful group of new Roots instructors. Both Roots of Success and SPP can’t wait to hear about the ideas and discussions that come from the classes these women will teach. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Three

Part Three: Session at the Women’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here, and Part Two is here.
Photos and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The WCCW visit room and sometimes-classroom is captured in the mirror at the front.

In January, we presented lecture survey results to students at the men’s prison, and gathered their feedback and ideas (that story here). We needed to repeat the process at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), but had to wait until there was an opening in the lecture series schedule. That time came in March.

As a part of the presentation, Liliana also gave an overview of SPP programs statewide and at WCCW.

The program classroom at WCCW can have a very different feel than the one at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lectures are held in the visit room. The layout is not ideal, and the buzz of vending machines can be a distraction. That day, we learned from the students that program demand is met just fine by the seats and sessions available—they aren’t clamoring for more, like we hear from the male students. While Stafford Creek has nearly 2,000 residents, WCCW has less than 800, and WCCW residents can choose from a relative abundance of programming. These factors likely contribute to a somewhat more casual classroom atmosphere than at the men’s prison.

Again, Liliana Caughman presented her report from the lecture series surveys, and again the students nodded with agreement at the results. However, this group was more quick to talk about a negative result: the small number of students (5%) who respond negatively to the lectures. A student self-identified as one of these, and I was glad to hear more from her when we broke into small groups: her critique was more acute than others’, but the particulars were similar to widely-expressed comments.

More engaging!

In my small group, we passed a talking piece to make sure everyone had chances to talk, and I think it made for a high quality discussion. A few students shielded themselves from potential germs by only handling the talking piece with the help of a napkin.

Liliana, Elijah Moloney, and I each sat with a third of the group to further discuss the program and program surveys. From nearly everyone in my group, I heard that they want more interactive and varied sessions. Several students said they struggle to sit still and pay attention through a 90 minute presentation. I heard that a short presentation is fine, and especially if it includes a way to take notes (we would need to provide the paper and pencils), humor, specimens, live animals, or video. They asked us to make time for writing, worksheets, quizzes on the content, games, and individual or small group exercises. Overall, they want content that’s more “sticky.” All this lead to the most potent suggestion: they aren’t very interested in lectures, so why not call the program something else?

Good point! I recall Sarah Weber’s research 2012 study that “… the lecture-style presentations appeared more effective for for male students, whereas workshop-style presentations appeared more effective for female students in improving inmate knowledge and attitudes on environmental topics.”  More recent results from the men’s prison, including what we heard during the January session, point to a wide-spread preference for interactive, more engaging sessions. Lectures may be more effective at conveying information, at least for some groups, but workshops have a wide-spread, strongly positive effect on environmental attitudes.

Topics & Surveys

The students asked for sessions on sociology, psychology, communications, physiology, mental plasticity, and evolution. These are some of my favorite topics too.

Like the male students, they asked for more knowledge questions. A few suggested more variety in the questions about attitude, so that respondents are less likely to answer automatically.

What next?

I find it super satisfying to have extensive qualitative and quantitative results on the program; it makes it easy to decide what next! Here is what we will do:

  • Rename the program. Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has served us well for years, but it’s time for an upgrade. Program partners have agreed on Environmental Engagement Workshop Series.

  • Update guidelines for guest presenters, with pointers on how to create inspiring, challenging, “sticky,” content.
  • Recruit guests with expertise on social, political, physiological, and evolutionary aspects of the environmental field.
  • Increase the number of knowledge questions on the surveys.
  • Use a larger set of attitude questions, varying which are included each time; some questions will ask about identity and plans for action.

We have already started work on each of these actions. Liliana has started using the new name with guest presenters, and was pleased to see that the word “workshop” had the desired effect on their planning and facilitation.

I still recognize that seven years’ data from the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series showed us that the program has been enormously successful and well received. Now we are ready to make it even better!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Two

Part Two: Session at the Men’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here.
Phot0s and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Lecture Series students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center were attentive to Liliana Caughman‘s report of survey results. They showed signs of agreeing with all that she shared from program evaluation. They know first hand that they have gained knowledge from the series, that their environmental attitudes have become more positive, and that they prefer interactive, relevant content, just as the results said.

More exciting and illuminating was the quantity and quality of ideas they offered for improving the series and evaluation surveys. Elijah Moloney, Lecture Series Intern, Liliana, and I each circled up with a third of the students present, and gathered many salient observations and recommendations.

Huge demand

Lecture Series intern Elijah Moloney shares his views on climate change and environmental justice.

We learned that the demand at Stafford Creek to attend the series far exceeds classroom capacity–the sign up is filled almost as soon as it is posted, and many students are disappointed when they are not able to claim a seat. They said we could easily fill a classroom twice the size, and that they would be willing to undergo a pat-down search for lectures held in the much-larger visiting room. Some pointed to the value of inviting/including new folks who could represent new and diverse points of view.

Students also recognized that they prefer more interactive sessions, and want each person to have a chance to give input and ask questions. That points to increasing the number of lectures, perhaps repeating content for morning and afternoon sessions.

Topics

The students at Stafford Creek express interest in a huge variety of sustainability and environmental topics. New topic requests I heard were economic and political aspects of climate change—I agree that there is much to learn and consider in that arena! A few students spoke of their frustrations of not having their requests filled, or that they have missed the presentation when their request was met. Again, this points to the desire to increase program access and scope.

One student shared in writing that he was offended by how we described extending the environmental movement to represent all races and cultures. I am still struggling to figure out how to promote increasing environmental equity without suggesting that I am rejecting people who already identify as environmentalists or students of sustainability.

Surveys

To our surprise, the students generally supported ongoing surveys; they were not experiencing survey “burn out” as we had feared. However, they had concrete suggestions for how to revise them:

  • more true and false questions, including some more difficult queries
  • since nearly all attending the lecture series have highly positive attitudes about the environment, shift to measuring each lecture’s impact on empowering action
  • provide work sheets to fill in during and/or after the session

What an awesome group of students!

In our next post we will share what we heard from the sister program at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and divulge the program revisions we have planned in response to the students’ written and spoken input.