Environmental Education & 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.

Science & Sustainability Lecture Series


Students of SPP’s Science and Sustainability Lecture Series discuss their drawing of sustainability systems during a workshop at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

SPP-sponsored lecture series are going strong at Stafford Creek Correction Center (Aberdeen, WA) and the Washington Corrections Center for Women (Gig Harbor, WA), and have recently expanded to three more WA prisons. 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, environmental justice, and reconciling science and religion.

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

Roots of Success

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental literacy curriculum that covers vital environmental topics and challenges students to think critically and innovate community-based solutions. Roots students are equipped with job readiness and re-entry skills to prepare for work in the green economy. 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, and had graduated more than 2,000 Roots students. SPP-OR also hosts the program. In the first three years of the program in Washington State DOC, more than 800 students have graduated from the class. Roots of Success is currently available in 9 prisons, and has become a staple of sustainability programming statewide.

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

To download SPP’s one-page overview of our education programs, click here.