Gardens take root at McNeil Island prison

Blog post by Project Manager Jeff Muse:

The McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) is digging into the Sustainable Prisons Project with inspiring results.

This summer, MICC Gardens Supervisor Scott Skaggs led a team of inmates in turning patches of grass into a field of organic vegetables destined for the prison’s kitchen. Approximately one acre of lawn in the middle of the facility now boasts tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and other plants, as well as small composting units to enhance the soil. Supervised by Scott, a 27-year veteran at MICC, the inmates manage the garden as part of their jobs on the prison’s horticulture crew.

Inmates at the McNeil Island Corrections Center show off their first-year broccoli (photo: Laurie Ballew).

Inmates at the McNeil Island Corrections Center tend the broccoli in the prison's first-year garden. Photo: Laurie Ballew.

With support from Evergreen graduate assistant Carl Elliott, a gardening and horticulture expert known for his appearances on KUOW’s Weekday, MICC staff and inmates are planning to expand this exciting operation. Next year, more grass inside the fence will be converted to organic food production or native plants.

Located in southern Puget Sound between Tacoma and Olympia, MICC occupies the site of a former federal penitentiary built in 1875. Today, it is administered by the Washington State Department of Corrections as the nation’s only prison operating on an island accessible solely by boat or airplane. Learn more about McNeil Island’s history.


  1. Wind Turbine

    Great to see what you are doing with the Sustainable Prisons Project, will this include sustainable energy solutions like wind turbines?. Prisons use vast quantities of water, one think you should consider is wastewater treatment and recycling the water for irrigation of the crops.

    Reply to this comment ↓
    • Jeff Muse

      Thank you for your question!

      The capital programs division of the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) is working on innovative solutions for energy and water efficiency. These range from solar installations and water catchment systems to large-scale food composting to reduce the waste stream burden on water treatment facilities. For instance, at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Littlerock, WA, a plate-scraping and food composting initiative run by inmates eliminated the need for a $1.4 million upgrade to the prison’s water treatment facility.

      Wind turbines and greywater recycling are under consideration. You can learn more about DOC efforts at or by contacting the agency’s sustainability coordinator:

      Jeff Muse, Sustainable Prisons Project Manager
      The Evergreen State College

      Reply to this comment ↓
  2. John Patterson

    This seems like a great project going on over there. Might as well make strides with the help of the inmates to find innovative ways to be green. I am glad to see you are considering a wind power turbine. I would think it would be effective with amount of wind that circulates up the sound.

    Reply to this comment ↓
  3. Billy Conrad

    I think this is a great concept and should implemented into all prisions. It would give inmates a sense of responsibility as well as help reduce the prisons carbon foot print as well as their cost to the rest of society. If prisons could become more self contained eco-friendly systems, they would make large impacts on our eco-system as well as the economic impacts they have for tax payers. You could also take waste system systems could create a recycled compost for these gardens. I saw a toilet system that did just this. It was a {composting toilet|} system, they could be done stalled during construction.

    Reply to this comment ↓
  4. Kandi Uhlenkott

    Hey superior blog!!Man..Lovely..Excellent..I will bookmark a person’s weblog and take your feeds also – – Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed. Benjamin Franklin 1706 1790

    Reply to this comment ↓
  5. april

    I think its very interesting and cool at the s apme time helping are economy and environment and theprisoners thats awsume thanku and thanku and god bldss 2 all the prisons and prisoners who participate

    Reply to this comment ↓

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