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Prisons go green, farm, recycle to save energy
More facilities seek alternatives in attempts to reduce costs, waste

“LITTLEROCK, Wash. – Of all the things convicted murderer Robert Knowles has been called during his 13 years behind bars, recycler hasn’t been one of them.

But there he was one morning, pitchfork in hand, composting food scraps from the main chow line and coffee grounds from prison headquarters doing his part to “green” the prison.

“It’s nice to be out in the elements,” said Knowles, 42, stirring dark, rich compost that will amend the soil at the small farm where he and fellow inmates of the Cedar Creek Corrections Center grew 8,000 pounds of organic vegetables this year.

Inmates of the minimum-security facility, 25 miles from Olympia, the state capital, raise bees, grow organic tomatoes and lettuce, compost 100 percent of food waste and even recycle shoe scraps that are made into playground turf.

‘It reduces cost, reduces our damaging impact on the environment, engages inmates as students,’ said Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, which oversees 15 prisons and 18,000 offenders. ‘It’s good security.’…

Gains with ‘Con-Post’

While there isn’t scientific evidence that such activities are helping inmates, Nalini Nadkarni, an environmental studies professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., notes anecdotal evidence that it’s working.

‘They were stimulating their minds and having conversations that were different than ‘How much more time we have left?’ said Nadkarni.

One inmate went beyond conversations, enrolling in a doctoral program when he got out and co-authoring a research paper with Nadkarni on a moss-growing project she started to help reduce the impact of wild moss harvesting on forests.

While Cedar Creek went green out of economic necessity it had to conserve because it didn’t have the wastewater capacity to expand four years ago it is now embracing other benefits, said Dan Pacholke, a state prison administrator who helped implement many of the practices.

Cedar Creek uses 250,000 fewer gallons of water a year, saves $6,000 to $8,400 annually on garbage bills and avoided a $1.4 million sewage treatment plant upgrade.

A large “Con-Post” marks the prison’s composting station, made of recycled concrete blocks and reclaimed wood, where Knowles spends about six hours a day, making sure the compost gets enough heat, moisture and air to break down food scraps.

‘They trust me to do all this with no supervision,’ said Knowles, who is serving time for the hit-and-run death of an off-duty police officer.

‘I like growing the vegetables,’ Knowles said. ‘My mom had a garden. I can see having my own garden,'” quoting MSNBC.

Posted by Steve on November 7, 2008 at 6:38 am | Permalink

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