Environmental problems such as climate change and habitat degradation require innovative, responsive science. To connect society with ecological systems, scientists must work across the traditional boundaries of academia and research, and in turn learn from new audiences. In effect, both scientist and newcomer must become ambassadors to each other’s culture – learning the language, exchanging ideas and working toward common goals.
At the Sustainability in Prisons Project, we connect people inside and outside prison walls to create a collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment in which incarcerated men and women play key roles in conservation and advancing scientific knowledge. We encourage teamwork, mutual respect and a stewardship ethic among individuals who typically have little or no access to nature or opportunities in science and sustainability. At the same time, we give scientists a powerful opportunity to expand their work through the fresh perspectives and creative energy of the prison community.
With additional funding and support from visiting scientists, we hope to establish science projects throughout Washington’s prison system and with other “research ambassadors” such as the elderly in assisted living centers. At present, we have multiple programs, each involving inmates, college students and community partners. Click on a program name to learn more about it.
Four of Washington State’s prisons host beekeeping programs, and many more prisons are making plans to add them. Scientifically engaging and ecologically vital, beekeeping can be a profitable skill for a post-prison career, be it in honey and beeswax production or pollinating fruits and vegetables in orchards and farms.
Offenders learn about bee biology and behavior, hive construction and maintenance, beekeeping equipment and commercial business practices. Often located in rural areas, prisons are uniquely positioned to support the pollination of wild and commercial plants while helping scientists study the alarming threat of bee colony collapse.