By Paul Sheldon
(this originally appeared on the website www.CorrectionsOne.com)
When the American Correctional Association first began discussing the possibility of adopting and audit standard for “clean and green” practices for correctional institutions, Richard Stalder, Former President of ACA and Former Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was overheard to ask, “Is a mulch pile ‘sustainable’?” When he heard that the answer was yes, Mr. Stalder exclaimed, “Good! Then at Angola we’ve been sustainable for a hundred years.”
Historically known as a community of severe criminals, most of whom will die there, Angola is perhaps best known these days for its rodeo. But what is less-well known is that the penitentiary’s farming operations support not only the residents of the institution, but many surrounding communities as well. Graced by thousands of acres of fertile farmland, Angola continues its tradition of growing food and livestock, as well as newer programs of horticulture, gardening, and recycling wheelchairs, as examples of an ongoing commitment to sustainability-oriented practices.
Angola’s continuing tradition exemplifies the American Correctional Association’s commitment to helping institutions save money and increase revenue through “green” practices, while also maintaining institutional security and public safety.
As featured at ACA’s most recent Winter conference, in Tampa, Florida, January 31 – February 5, 2014, many “green” programs, such as The Insight Garden Program at California’s San Quentin State Prison (www.InsightGardenProgram.org) and the Oakland-based Planting Justice’s programs to employ formerly-incarcerated individuals (www.PlantingJustice.org) were all topics of a widely-diverse array of examples of “green” practices coming into use in correctional institutions across the U.S.
Rapidly catching up to the leadership offered by Washington State, other regions, such as Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Alabama are implementing sustainability-oriented practices such as gardening, composting, recycling, renewable energy, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education programs agency-wide. Ohio’s emphasis on the Roots of Success environmental literacy program for job readiness began when one Warden, Sherrie Duffey, of Southeastern Correctional Complex (who will be honored as Warden of the Year by the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents at the ACA Summer Congress in Salt Lake City in August of this year) attended the first National Symposium on Greening Prisons, sponsored by www.GreenPrisons.org, in June of 2011.
As has become increasingly common, ACA’s Winter Conference in January offered five separate workshops on “green” topics, including the impacts of gardening on reducing recidivism, sustainability-oriented practices, energy, “environmental literacy” programming, and more. The Summer Congress will offer additional “green” workshops to help institutions and agencies learn from each other about ways to save money, increase security, reduce violence, and reduce recidivism.
In carrying on this emerging tradition of sustainability, ACA recently announced that the Summer Congress in Salt Lake City will offer vendors a specially-designated “Green Street” area of the Exhibit Hall, where a cluster of booths will be offered to “green” vendors offering less toxic products, renewable energy, the therapeutic value of gardening and composting, containerized compost systems, “green” education and health programs, and other sustainability-oriented products and services.
With continuing leadership from the American Correctional Association and heritage institutions like Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary, the momentum towards the greening of America’s correctional institutions shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Paul Sheldon, M.A., is senior advisor for www.GreenPrisons.org, a founding member of the ACA Clean and Green Committee, and a member of the Board of Directors of www.PlantingJustice.org