Category Archives: Sustainable Operations

Gardening with Sophie Hart at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

by Sophie Hart, SPP volunteer

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

Inmate prepping the beds for seed sowing.

About a month ago, I began volunteering in the gardening programs at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) through the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). My experiences at CCCC have been very positive. I find myself really looking forward to my time spent there each week. It has been great working with the staff, from superintendant Douglas Cole, programs manager Charlie Washburn and volunteer coordinator Kim Govreau, to the officers I encounter each week. All have been welcoming of my efforts and presence, and I am especially thankful for their support and dedication to the gardening programs. I think they have truly tough jobs, and I am impressed by the positive attitudes and spirit they bring to their work. I see them show respect to inmates, and get respect in return.

I am grateful, too, to be working with a group of hard-working inmates. They seem to enjoy their work, and have responded kindly and welcomingly to my input. When I first began volunteering, I was worried about establishing my role with them. Recently, though, we have been so busy measuring garden plots, discussing what seeds to order and preparing the beds for Spring planting that I haven’t had much time to dwell on the fact that I’m in a prison working with inmates. They don’t do much to remind me of that either.

Of course, I am reminded whenever an inmate opens up about what led them to CCCC. And every time I hear myself called “Ms. Hart.” And when I am buzzed-through the control office to get to the gardens outside the fence. But when the inmates discuss their experiences working on the gardens, they remind me of any other gardener. Some talk about their time in the greenhouses as a reprieve from their daily lives, and the gardens as their own space to take care of. This month, everyone is itching to get growing.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

Inmates applying a blend of organic fertilizers to the beds.

In the brief time I have spent at CCCC, I can tell that SPP doesn’t only impact the inmates by providing interesting and engaging jobs, but the programs also affect the way the facility is perceived, by staff and prisoners alike. On my first visit to the prison, Mr. Cole led our group on a tour of the prison grounds, stopping at their many different gardening plots. We discussed the history of each plot: what was planted there before, how the soil behaved, how it was watered. When I asked about pests, I was told about their deer problem: the gardening spaces that are situated outside of the fence are frequently munched on by deer coming out of the (seriously beautiful) surrounding state park. Mr. Cole then laughed and jested that the fence wasn’t actually there to keep the men inside, but really to keep the deer out. An inmate challenged that it still wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping out the raccoons who love to rummage in the open compost heaps. Suddenly, the tall, chain-linked, razor-wire fence lost some of its edge. I remember this story and smile when I see it, imagining stealthy raccoons successfully navigating corrections’ security system to sneak in to the prison to steal from the gardens.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

Inmate watches hungry deer eyeing the garden plot.

My First Two Months Working at SPP

By Graduate Research Assistant Drissia Ras

Working for the SPP is a great experience at all levels. It all started a couple of months ago. I am in fact no expert when it comes to prairie plant identification nor working with inmates, but I work under the direction of very experienced people and I’m learning to polish my experience in environmental restoration.

Inmate filling trays with soil for sowing Indian Paintbrush.

I spend my time between three nurseries: Shotwell’s Landing, WCCW (Washington Corrections Center for Woman) and SCCC (Stafford Creek Corrections Center). My focus is on the SCCC nursery where I go once a week to help a crew of inmates with sowing and making sure they have enough soil, seeds, space for trays and any other materials that they might need.

I can say with confidence that working with inmates is not what it sounds like at all. Inmates are just people like you and me, people that have been down on their luck for one reason or another, people that are paying their dues to society and trying to make the best out of their situation. The majority of the inmates we work with are there because they want to get involved in something meaningful, or because they have a previous experience in nursery work, or are just trying to make some money and escape the routine of prison. But whatever brought them to us, I try to make it a good experience for them, get them involved in our work and help them understand the big picture of what we do and why we do it. It is easy to lose focus and interest in what they are doing when they spend a long time just sowing and not thinking about how helpful and meaningful their job is. Lectures about science, ecology, and restoration techniques are a good way to keep them excited and engaged. The last lecture they had was about science and religion, and believe me, it was amazing hearing what they already knew of the subject and the discussion that followed. We had the same lecture as part of my Master’s program, yet the discussion they had was far more captivating than the one in my class. Most of the offenders truly appreciate when we describe the ecological context of what they are doing because it helps them understand the impact of their labor and see how it fits into the bigger picture of conservation.

Many of these offenders are already highly knowledgeable about horticulture, pesticide application, landscape management and many diverse disciplines. Most of them are able to offer valuable input on nursery methods and are often pleased to contribute ideas, take initiative, keep record of the sowing schedule and make the nursery run smoothly. A crew of inmates can sow up to 140 trays a day which is very impressive, efficient and usually quality oriented.

I honestly look forward to spending time with inmates because I am able to learn so much and I appreciate what everyone has to say.

Staging area at SCCC from Thursday morning, Feb. 7, 2013.

Rainbow over Staging Area at SCCC

Washington Corrections Center for Women Horticulture & Floral Design Programs

Please note>> the best way to contact this program is to call the prison’s main number and ask for Floral Design: (253) 858-4200 – Main

Washington Corrections Center for Women Horticulture & Floral Design Programs
By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

WCCW and Tacoma Community College (TCC) joined together to implement an Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program for offenders.  GEDs or high school diplomas are now no longer a prerequisite to enroll in the Horticulture vocational training program (administered by TCC) at WCCW.

Students now have the opportunity to earn college level credits while earning their GED at the same time.  Throughout the I-BEST program, students learn skills through real-world scenarios.  The I-BEST/Horticulture curriculum provides opportunities for women to learn job skills and gain important experience in the horticulture field.  In 2012, offenders harvested more than 11,000 pounds of vegetables at WCCW and more than 147,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables at Mother Earth Farm.

WCCW’s floral department students have the opportunity to use the knowledge they have gained by designing floral arrangements for the community.  They design flowers for weddings, funerals, special occasions, proms, banquets, conventions and other holidays. This year alone they have designed flowers for 37 different weddings!

Most of us know that the Puyallup Fair is one of the biggest fairs in the world, but did you know that for the past six years WCCW’s floral designers have entered the Puyallup Fair under the professional design division?   They have consistently placed first, second, third and best of show!  Prizes are awarded based on arrangement, quality, condition, variety and finish.

WCCW staff is very proud of the accomplishments their programs provide the offenders.  Having programs like these in prisons improves morale and staff and offender safety.


A WCCW offender-designed floral arrangement awaits judging the Puyallup Fair.



Bountiful gardens at Washington Corrections Center for Women

By Melissa R. Johnson, Administrative Assistant, Washington Corrections Center for Women

Program director Ed Tharp in the garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women.Gig Harbor, Wash.—Emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the horticulture program at Washington Corrections Center for Women provides an opportunity for offenders to enroll as Tacoma Community College students in order to learn job skills and gain important experience in nursery operations and floral design. So far this year, the gardens have produced 9,365 pounds of vegetables that were harvested and then prepared and served in the offender kitchen—and it’s still growing.

“This is one of the most gratifying jobs I have ever had,” said program director Ed Tharp. “One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing the ladies succeed when they get out.”

The facility’s horticulture department employs 10 students as teacher assistants who are responsible for the planting and harvesting of the gardens. Currently 51 students are enrolled in horticulture and 14 are enrolled in organic farming. Horticulture students learn about sustainable gardening, vegetable gardening, plant propagation, commercial greenhouses, floral design, floral shop operation and integrated pest management, just to name a few.  Organic farming students have the opportunity to work on an outside crew at Mother Earth Farm, an organic farm in Puyallup.

Canyon Little, Mother Earth Farm manager, said her farm has been able to produce about 148,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables on nearly eight acres of land in the Puyallup Valley. She told Tharp she was “impressed with how hard each of the offenders worked on every visit, and how they were eager to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired through their education.”

The garden at Washington Corrections Center for Women“Because each offender demonstrated a high capacity of responsibility for day-to-day farm activities, I decided to assign special projects for each lady,” Little said. “The project idea was a way for the offenders to take ownership of the farm, learn something new and educate each other on their respective projects. Being a part of the learning process was an enriching experience as a manager, and I look forward to working with Washington Corrections Center for Women to explore new boundaries, build knowledge and experiences and work together to fight hunger.”

Mother Earth Farm works with the Emergency Food Network by supplying fresh produce to 74 local food banks, hot-meal sites and shelters in Pierce County. Other produce was sent to the Cannery Project in Kent, which converted the donations into more than 1000,000 cans of fruits and vegetables.

Washington Corrections Center for Women is excited to see what next year will hold. Next year’s garden is already planned and the seeds are ordered.

Using Worms to Reduce Food Waste at Monroe Correctional Complex!

By Donna Simpson, Administrative Assistant 3 at Monroe Correctional Complex

The Monroe Correctional Complex is using worms to reduce food waste disposal costs while also providing a meaningful science and sustainability education and work program for offenders.

Currently at 5 million worms, the vermiculture program can process 10,000 pounds of food scraps per month, resulting in a cost reduction of more than 25%.  This translates into big savings for the prison, which previously spent $60,000 a year on food waste disposal before several sustainability initiatives began.

In January of 2010, staff and offenders developed the vermiculture program by collecting just 200 red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) for three small breeding bins built by offenders. Very little funding has been invested in the program. As the worm population grew, new and improved models of worm bins were built by converting discarded barrels, old laundry carts, food carts, and recycled mattress materials. This indoor commercial-sized “Wormery” currently has more than 170 worm bins designed and built by offenders.  Seventeen of the bins are “flow-through” style.  The flow-through bins are primarily built from re-purposed materials by offenders, whereas they would typically retail at more than $5,000 each.

This program provides other benefits, including the by-products produced by the worms. Worm castings (worm manure) are a valuable, high-quality organic fertilizer sought after in the organic gardening market. The “Wormery” also produces 400 gallons of worm tea fertilizer per week. The worm castings and worm tea are used in the several acres of gardens at Monroe Correctional Complex.

Studies have shown that offenders who participate in horticulture programs while incarcerated have a lower rate of recidivism. Offenders develop important vocational and life skills. The worm technicians at MCC wrote an operations manual that is now available to assist other institutions in starting new vermiculture programs. They have also developed an extensive breeding program capable of exporting worms to other Washington institutions, agencies or schools. Thus far, Washington State Penitentiary and Stafford Creek Corrections Center have received worms as a result of this program.


Worm breeding bins


Flow through bins designed and built by inmates


Worm Breeding Bins


New Tilapia Program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center

by Lucienne Guyot, Executive Secretary Correctional Industries and Lyle Morse, Director Correctional Industries

Construction is well underway on the greenhouse which will house tilapia at Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen. The lean, fresh water fish will live in water heated by solar panels manufactured at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.  Offenders working in the new Correctional Industries program will rear the fish.  Besides feeding and general care for the tilapia, offenders will learn the craft of fish rearing including monitoring nitrates, nitrites, ammonia and regulating these substances along with water quality and temperature. They will perform equipment maintenance, monitor alarms and produce a protein source for use in offender meals. The facility is designed to have a capacity of 40,000 lbs of fish per year with the possibility for expansion.  The agency will develop a fish patty to serve as the primary dietary product.

The Department of Corrections is not new to offering offenders work in sustainability projects. This new Correctional Industries program is well-aligned with the on-going Sustainability in Prisons Project, a partnership between the Department, The Evergreen State College, state and federal agencies, and conservation organizations.

Tilapia Tanks and Greenhouse at Stafford Creek Corrections Center


Workshops address needs to help advance SPP goals

Workshops address needs to help advance SPP goals

By Julie Vanneste, Sustainability Coordinator, Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC)

For two days last week Department of Corrections staff, consultants, representatives from fellow state agencies and the National Institute of Corrections met to work on the sustainability goals of the Washington DOC. From these meetings the Department is better equipped to implement sustainable purchasing policies and training for staff and offenders.

Washington DOC was one of three states to be awarded a Technical Assistance Grant by the National Institute of Corrections toward Greening Corrections.  The award provided funds to recruit subject matter experts to convene for two days of workshops to address an area where the stated identified a need for assistance.

Washington was the first state to hold its workshops.  We chose to focus on greening our procurement process and creating a sustainability curriculum to be delivered to both staff and offenders.

In our first meeting we quickly concluded we need to take ourselves back to foundations and write a sustainable procurement plan that will augment the broader sustainability plan.  We left the workshop with some ideas for drafting a sustainable purchasing plan.

We were able to move on to some critical points of discussion including reframing our approach to sustainable purchasing. We re-confirmed the Department’s commitment to “Sustainable Purchasing” over “Green Purchasing.” We view sustainable purchasing as a more holistic approach to include regard for social and economic well-being as well as environmental concerns. Pursuing a sustainable purchasing program is the more challenging option, but this path will satisfy the Department’s economic and social responsibilities as well. To achieve this we have begun to produce a new sustainable purchasing policy and companion purchasing guide to nest in our broader Sustainability Plan and began work to identify and prioritize opportunities to apply this strategy.

In the second workshop we were joined by both the Deputy Secretary and Chief of Maintenance of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services.  Maryland, too, expressed a need for a sustainability training tool – a means or curriculum to introduce, educate and market sustainability to both staff and offenders.

With the help of our Maryland colleagues, our partners in the Sustainability in Prisons Project from The Evergreen State College, and staff from the U.S. Department of Energy, we developed a draft curriculum that will further strengthen the culture of environmental, economic and social responsibility already present at our facilities.  This curriculum, “Living Sustainably in a Correctional Environment: Why we do it”, was designed to be flexible and adaptable between audiences and facilities across the nation.

All credit for the successful outcomes of these two workshops are due to the support received by NIC, the consultants from FHI360 and the facilitators, technical experts and fellow stakeholders who came to the table to help us forward our sustainability goals.  The collaboration around the table was invaluable.

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

On a crisp fall day at the end of October, participating Oregon spotted frog (OSF) rearing partners gathered for the annual frog release at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM).  The OSF, received by each institution in egg form, are reared from March to October when they are released as healthy juvenile and adult frogs onto three wetland sites located at JBLM.  This is a fun day that all the partners look forward to each year.

The Sustainable Prison Project frogs were transported from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) in ten shoebox-sized Tupperware containers lined with wet paper towels. Upon arrival, the containers were taken to the waters edge where lids were removed.  Some frogs were anxious to get out and immediately jumped onto the shore and into the water, while some needed a bit more time and coaxing.   Once in the water, the frogs quickly camouflaged themselves by digging into the sandy bottom or swimming into marshy vegetation.   The water in the wetland is cool, but open and exposed to sunlight, with nice shallow areas along the banks.  OSF are highly aquatic and leave the water only for short periods of time to forage for food.  They move between ponds via connecting waterways, making them especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation.  The wetlands at JBLM offer a large undisturbed habitat with many channels for migration and shallow warm water for breeding in the spring.

This year, we released 163 healthy, large adult OSF raised at CCCC.  The frog technician inmates, as always, did a wonderful job rearing our captive population.  It is not always possible to raise each frog to releasable size, and each year SPP takes all undersized frogs from our rearing partner facilities, and supports them through the winter at CCCC.  This year we received more than 60 frogs to over-winter.  The inmates will raise them until springtime when they will also be released on the wetlands at JBLM.

To donate to SPP and help Oregon spotted frog conservation in Washington state, click here.

Sustainable Prisons Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Sustainable Prison Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Dr. Hayes measuring an Oregon spotted frog with Dr. Conlon in the background

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

WDFW Research Scientist Dr. Marc Hayes recently brought visiting scientist Dr J. Michael Conlon to visit the Oregon spotted frog operation at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Dr. Conlon is a Professor of Biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and is an internationally known biochemist whose research interests are focused on the purification and characterization of naturally occurring, biologically active peptides. He has worked on skin peptides for more than 40 years and with frog skin peptides for more than 10 years.

A large, healthy Oregon spotted frog

Dr. Conlon is interested in studying the skin peptides of the Oregon spotted frog (OSF) because they are very high in anti-bacteria and anti-fungal properties. The OSF also show a resistance to the amphibian chytrid fungus, known to be decimating amphibian populations worldwide.  The answer to why OSF are resistant to chytrid might be found in their skin peptides.

To better understand this, purified skin secretions need to tested for their activity against several strains of chytrid, requiring three steps: 1) obtain the skin secretions; 2) purify the individual peptides from those secretions; and 3) test each individual peptide from the skin secretions on several strains of the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Oregon spotted frogs secreting skin peptides into water to be tested at the lab

SPP helped facilitate step 1, and steps 2 and 3 will be done in the UAE and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.   SPP and the frog interns at CCCC were pleased to be involved with this research as it will contribute significantly to the scientific knowledge of why OSFs are resistant to chytrid.

Celebration and Transition

Celebration and Transition

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

The Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) recently celebrated another year with our many wonderful partners.  The event, held on a cool summer evening at the Olympia Farmer’s Market, featured a wide range of guest speakers representing various aspects of the Sustainable Prisons Project.  Speakers from Department of Corrections, Joint Base Lewis McChord, The Evergreen State College (TESC), Center for Natural Land Management, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a prison volunteer each spoke about the significance of SPP from their perspective.


The event was also an opportunity to honor out-going Co-Director and Co-Founder of the SPP, Dr. Nalini Nadkarni.  Nalini has accepted a position at University of Utah as the Director of the Center for Science and Math Education.  She will remain involved with SPP as Senior Advisor.  Nalini is also continuing work to share SPP with other states, including at her new location in Utah.


We also welcomed new SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy.  Carri began working with the SPP team in April and she officially began her new role as SPP Co-Director July 1st.  She is a stream ecologist and a member of the Masters of Environmental Studies faculty at Evergreen.  Carri is an excellent addition to the team and we look forward to continuing the Project with her leadership.


After a year filled with declining budgets we are extremely grateful to our partners, students, TESC staff, foundations, and grant funding sources that helped keep this project going.  We are excited to see what the next year brings!


To donate to the SPP and help bring conservation into Washington prisons, click here.