Evaluation of SPP Programming

The SPP evaluates its lecture series and conservation programs by: 1) conducting surveys of program participants and 2) maintaining databases of offender participation in SPP programs.

Surveying Lecture Series and Conservation/Sustainability Program Participants

Survey data are used to assess the quality of programs provided to incarcerated participants, and to adapt and improve those programs. All current survey questions are based on seven main objectives:

  1. subject matter knowledge pre- and post-participation
  2. level of interest and attitudes related to science and sustainability issues
  3. job skills gained through participation in the SPP
  4. quality of SPP recruiting, education, and training
  5. possible effect of SPP programming on offenders’ plans post-release
  6. general program improvement opportunities
  7. general interest in SPP programs and ideas for future lecture and conservation/sustainability program offerings

No questions about family, crimes, medical issues, or any other personal topics are included in either type of survey at this point. Participation is fully voluntary for all offenders.

Lecture survey results are cataloged at regular intervals. Conservation/sustainability program survey data are analyzed at the end of each calendar year. Following data analyses, the SPP staff members summarize findings, identify areas for improvement, and consider implementing program changes as resources allow.

The SPP Science and Sustainability Lecture Series

In 2011-2012, regular monthly lectures were given at two facilities, the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) and Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). The SPP lectures typically last 90-110 minutes, including time for questions. Lectures are delivered by visiting scientists or sustainability experts, and topics vary widely. Lecture attendance is voluntary; offenders sign up based on interest in the topic, custody level, and schedule availability.

Pre- and post-lecture surveys are used to assess knowledge retention and attitude change as a result of each lecture. Surveys are anonymous, optional, and numbered so that pre- and post-lecture surveys match. The SPP Education and Evaluations Coordinator administers the surveys, which includes explaining the process and distributing and collecting surveys. Lecture survey data are entered into an Excel spreadsheet at regular intervals and analyzed at the end of each calendar year.

The SPP Conservation/Sustainability Programs

All Washington prisons working with the SPP offer offenders opportunities to work with conservation and/or sustainability programs. Sustainability programs include activities such as composting, recycling, and gardening. While sustainability programs may receive financial and consulting support from outside partners, they are primarily led by the WDOC or Correctional Industries staff.

Conservation programs that involve growing plants and raising animals require collaboration with agencies and experts beyond the WDOC. For each of the SPP’s current conservation programs, there is a dedicated team that includes: SPP student interns, SPP Program Manager, Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) supervisor, WDOC facility contact, at least one scientist, and offenders. Some of the offenders and the WDOC staff are directly involved in experiments that determine the best protocols to raise and re-introduce target species—rare and/or endangered plants and animals. In this way, they are involved in generating valuable scientific data. In 2011-2012, offenders raised Oregon spotted frogs, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, and grew 50 different species of native prairie plants.

Conservation/sustainability program participants will be invited to complete surveys periodically. Surveys will be administered by the SPP Education and Evaluations Coordinator and/or a WDOC staff person.

Effective Data Outcomes

Lectures

Offenders who sign up to attend the SPP lectures put their names on a “call-out list.” Offenders sign in to lectures on an attendance sheet, and their attendance is recorded in an SPP database. Data can then be used to compare offenders who choose to attend one SPP lecture with those who attend many lectures, and also with the general offender population. Results offer insight into what works and what might be improved for future programming. The SPP receives summary data from the WDOC; no identifiable records are provided in order to keep participant information confidential.

The SPP also works with the WDOC staff to examine the effects lecture attendance may have on rates of infractions and grievances among offenders still incarcerated, and on rates of employment and recidivism among those already released. As the SPP National Network grows, data from across the country will be combined and compared, lending more statistical power to promising preliminary results.

Conservation/Sustainability Programs

Participation in conservation/sustainability programs is voluntary work detail for the incarcerated men and women who wish to take part. To qualify for work detail, all offenders must request a work position and go through an initial screening by the WDOC administrative counselors. After the screening, offenders can volunteer for a number of particular work details, including any open conservation or sustainability program positions. Applicants participate in a job interview to assess their work history, experience, ability to work in a team setting, and motivation. The WDOC staff members are responsible for all offender hiring and firing. The SPP conducts voluntary surveys of offenders selected for positions. Surveys include questions based on the seven objectives outlined above.

The names and WDOC numbers of offenders employed by the SPP Conservation Programs are kept in a database. With the help of the WDOC research staff, the SPP is able to compare data on offenders who maintain employment in SPP programs with data on the general offender population. As with data for lecture participation, the SPP is interested in rates of infractions, grievances, recidivism, and employment. The SPP receives summary data from the WDOC; again, no identifiable records are provided in order to keep participant information confidential.

Future Research

The SPP has many goals for the expansion and improvement of our growing evaluations program. We would like to survey WDOC staff members who have been involved with the lecture series and with conservation/sustainability programs. We are interested in improving the pre- and post-lecture questionnaires we administer to guest lecturers, and we would like to survey the scientists who work on our conservation program teams. We would also like to evaluate how the SPP programming fits into the WDOC-defined “opportunities to contribute.” We are interested in creating a post-release survey program for former lecture attendees and conservation/sustainability program technicians. Additionally, we would like to investigate SPP-related changes in perceptions of prisons on the part of the media and the public.