SPP Results

This overview is from SPP’s annual report for Fiscal Year 2017, July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017 (FY17). See our publications page for studies and evaluation summaries from earlier years.

Program Evaluation

WA corrections’ requirements for application and review for human subject’s research is changing substantially, and those changes are still in development. Overall, the review process for program evaluation and research will require more personnel time and funding resources than it has in the past. We have valuable results to share from FY17 evaluations, and expect our capacity to evaluate programs may be reduced going forward.

Research with External Partners

MCC staff escort Dr. Kevin Morris and SPP’s Emily Passarelli. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Dr. Kevin Morris of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver (DU) conducted a study of social/emotional impacts for inmates who participate in dog programs. Dr. Morris and colleagues implemented surveys and discussions with dog handlers at ten prisons in August, 2016. When analyses are complete, the research will complement the 2015 study conducted by Washington State University that found positive behavior changes in dog program participants.

Two psychologists from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada drafted a proposal to study the effects of pro-social priming with incarcerated participants of SPP programs, with the aim to replicate results of earlier studies with other populations. SPP program evaluation was also suggested. SPP’s co-director for WA Corrections identified the research as a priority project. We have not yet advanced the project to formal application stage.

Program Evaluation

We survey students of our workshop series, technicians in ecological conservation programs, and inmates and staff in the Nature Imagery program at WCC. Thus far, only surveys from the workshop series have undergone analyses.

Lecture/Workshop Series

A workshop series student answers knowledge questions at the end of the session. Photo by Keegan Curry.

This year, SPP program coordinator Liliana Caughman  analyzed data from lecture series students from seven years’ of responses, encompassing 15,874 surveys. Her key findings were:

  • The students are gaining environmental knowledge from the lectures. As the years pass, students are learning more from our lectures. Does this mean they are becoming better students, or that the lectures themselves have improved?
  • As Tiffany Webb found in 2014, students’ positive attitudes about the environment have been steadily increasing over time. Many students do not become more positive about the environment as a result of a single lecture, but most started with such positive regard of environmental topics that no change is still a good thing! We see this as confirmation of what we’ve experienced: that there has been a positive culture shift within Washington State prisons.

These results were strongly statistically significant, giving us solid evidence that the program is effective. Liliana added a new measure of lecture quality, and found:

  • Using 3 criteria to describe how engaging a lecture is, scoring how much a lecture provided hands-on experiences 2. empowered students to be helpful to others who are important to them 3. built community and connections between people, there is a nice correlation between each lecture’s engagement score and how much environmental attitudes increased for the same lecture. These results suggest that Liliana’s engagement score is a valuable measure of a lecture’s quality.

We facilitated discussion of these results with lecture series students at both host facilities, and found further validation. Both sets of students emphasized interest in interactive sessions, and connecting every topic with their current lives and future plans. We revised program protocols to better meet that interest, and changed the program name from Science and Sustainability Lecture Series to Environmental Engagement Workshop Series.


In June, 2016, we offered a one-time reentry presentation, coupled with a reentry survey for those attendees. From 30 complete surveys, we found:

  • “Letters of Reference” and “Host Re-entry Guest Experts” were the assistance types most often cited at being the most important. Those options also ranked 1st and 2nd when considering each respondents top three choices. From these results, SPP-Evergreen staff will prioritize creating letters of reference for technicians and students who have demonstrated ability, skills, and/or work ethic.

From qualitative responses to concerns about post-release challenges, the vast majority were worried about employment and housing.

Student Theses

Master of Environmental Studies candidate Emily Passarelli presents findings on former SPP participants environmental identity and attitudes. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Two Master of Environmental Studies students presented their findings from SPP programs.

Sadie Gilliom, SPP Turtle Program Coordinator, completed a qualitative study of WA Corrections staff and leadership involved in the turtle program at CCCC and LCC. Key findings were:

  • Staff reported that the program increases job satisfaction and decreases stress
  • Staff described the program as catalyzing a shift from punitive to collaborative and offender to human: positive impact on staff and residents
  • The program is a small step in the right direction in the big picture: program expansion and more collaborative training would be beneficial

Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, interviewed former conservation technicians and Roots of Success instructors to characterize their environmental attitudes and identities. Key findings were:

  • Environmental identities are being formed in-program and lasting post release.
  • Participants have been pursuing environmental education and plan to pursue environmental careers.
  • Participants are sharing what they learned with their families and communities.


Data Requests

WA Corrections research staff provided data on three sets of SPP participants: Roots of Success instructors, Roots of Success graduates (students), and Ecological Conservation program technicians. All three data sets ended June 30, 2017, and started with earliest records: spring 2013 for Roots of Success, and ~2010 for first full records from a conservation program. Results help us describe incarcerated participants in SPP programs, as compared to WA prison residents overall (Agency Fact Card). We cannot claim that any of the results below were caused by participation in our program; however, we find value in better knowing the attributes and habits of SPP instructors, students, and technicians. Key findings summarized for each group below.

Roots of Success Instructors

From data on 32 Roots of Success instructors, we see higher racial diversity than the general population: 53% White compared to 71% White statewide.

Comparing pre-program, during program, and post-program rates, General Infractions are higher during the program, and drop to slightly below the pre-program rate when program participation ends (4.5/15.4/4.2). Serious and violent infraction rates both drop to low levels (6.1/0.0/0.4 and 1.8/0.0/0.0). Rates of grievances decline slightly during and post-program (14.9/14.2/12.1).

Roots of Success Student Graduates

Roots of Success instructors and graduates pose for a class photo at a graduation ceremony. Photo by DOC staff.

We received data for 1,015 Roots of Success graduates of the full curriculum. Again, we see higher racial diversity than the general population: 64% White compared to 71% White statewide. The difference appears due to increased participation by Black students: 25% of Roots graduates are Black, compared to 18% statewide. Student graduates in this program appear to be more racially diverse than those in the SPP Lecture Series: from 2015 data from the lecture series, 73% of those students were White, and only 15% were Black.

Comparing pre-program, during program, and post-program rates, student’s general infractions drop during the program, and rebound slightly following graduation (10.5/6.2/8.2). Serious and violent infraction rates both drop to lower levels (5.6/2.8/2.9 and 1.3/0.6/0.6). Rates of grievances decline slightly during, and then rebound (28.8/20.4/28.8).

Ecological Conservation Technicians

Prairie Conservation Nursery technicians fill planting tubes with soil. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

From data on 139 conservation technicians, we see lower racial diversity than the general population: 78% White compared to 71% White statewide. Asian/Pacific Islanders show a relatively high rate of participation, 8% compared to 4% statewide, and Black technicians are relatively rare, 10% compared to 18% statewide.

Comparing pre-program, during program, and post-program rates, general infractions are higher during the program, and then drop to below the pre-program rate (9.7/11.7/4.9). Serious and violent infraction rates drop during and post-program (3.0/2.2/2.2 and 1.0/0.0/0.1). Rates of grievances decline during and post-program (10.9/4.1/2.4).

Since the first SPP conservation program in 2009, 91 have released from prison. Again, most of these have been in the community less than 2 years. 87% have not returned to prison; this does not satisfy WA Corrections definition of recidivism, but it suggests relatively successful reintegration.

Questions for Further Study
These findings suggest future inquiry and/or program development:

  • How to promote more racial diversity in SPP workshop/lecture series and ecological conservation programs?
  • What accounts for increase in general infractions for Roots Instructors and Conservation technicians during participation?
  • To gauge recidivism rates, repeat data request in ~2 years