Education and Training

In today’s economy, green-collar workers—people with expertise in ecology, energy efficiency and Earth-friendly development—are in increasingly high demand for their skills. This includes vocational and trade-level workers: carpenters who construct green buildings, weatherization specialists, installers of solar panels and wind turbines, ecological research assistants, organic farmers, beekeepers, and others.

The Sustainability in Prisons Project inspires and trains inmates and correctional staff through guest lectures, an environmental literacy program, and hands-on workshops. Activities are geared toward improving prison sustainability while connecting participants to the larger world of scientific research and conservation. Topics have included plant and wildlife ecology, sustainable agriculture, urban horticulture, alternative energy, and building with recycled materials. We introduce inmates to educational and employment opportunities that they may pursue after release, a critical factor for reducing recidivism according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.


Biologist Anna Thurston shares a native plant cutting with an inmate at Stafford Creek Corrections Center during a sustainability lecture. Photo by Shauna Bittle.

Science & Sustainability Lecture Series

SPP-sponsored lecture series are underway at Stafford Creek Correction Center (Aberdeen, WA) and the Washington Corrections Center for Women (Gig Harbor, WA). Scientists and community members active in conservation and sustainability share their passion and knowledge with inmates on wide ranging topics: wildlife biology, hydrology, innovations in composting, energy and biofuels, native plant identification, and reconciling science and religion. The Washington State Penitentiary, while unable to continue an on-going lecture series, has started offering a range of TED Talks at their facility in order to satisfy the desire for lectures.

Lectures are enthusiastically received and we hear many requests for more topics and repeat lectures. Share your expertise in science or sustainability by contacting Tiffany Webb, SPP’s Lecture Series Coordinator, at 360-867-6765 or

Roots of Success

Roots students at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) work in groups to finish assignments in their workbooks. These activities challenge inmates to think critically about the environment. Photo by Erica Turnbull.

Roots of Success is an environmental literacy curriculum that covers vital environmental topics and challenges students to think critically to innovate community-based solutions. Roots students are equipped with job readiness and re-entry skills to prepare for green jobs. The 50-hour course is instructed by inmates certified to deliver the curriculum; both instructors and students are dedicated to ensuring the success of peer-led classrooms.

Many Roots students and teachers have shared insights gained in the program. A recent Roots graduate, Austin Mays, wrote about Roots’ effect on his in-prison work as a cook:

…living in a place where you have little outside interaction causes you to be left behind. We, in prison, fail to see the world consuming itself. I recently graduated from Roots of Success and during this course my eyes were opened. Prison is its own city. The overhead is huge, and any way we can work together to create the best living conditions—by using the natural resources around us—is the best way.

SPP-Ohio has incorporated Roots at 23 of their institutions, with plans to offer it in all 28. SPP-OR is also rapidly implementing the program. Washington State correctional facilities currently teach Roots at 5 centers: Airway Heights, Clallam Bay, Coyote Ridge, Stafford Creek, and Washington State Penitentiary; by spring of 2015, Monroe Correctional Complex and Washington Corrections Center will begin their first Roots classes. SPP is organizing a training session in May 2015 to certify more instructors throughout the state and enable delivery of Roots at all 12 Washington prisons.

Education is an Essential Component of SPP

In addition to offering education-specific programming, SPP integrates education into every one of our programs. We try to act on every opportunity to incorporate technical and conceptual education for all SPP participants. Some examples include:

  • Asking inmate technicians and DOC staff what resources would inform and improve SPP programs; providing the books and articles they request
  • Encouraging program participants to pursue their research questions; providing the support needed to conduct that research
  • Creating clear education goals for inmate technicians; wherever possible, formalizing achievement of those goals with certificates (some colleges accept certificates for academic credit)
  • Promoting SPP programs and practices to the prison community with informative signs