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Prisons Going Green

By Michael Pittaro, assistant professor, Criminal Justice at American Military University

Homes and businesses have gone “green” by adopting environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible practices. Why shouldn’t the nation’s correctional facilities jump onboard?

With more than 2 million individuals incarcerated in federal and state prisons—the largest correctional population in the world—correctional facilities can play a large role in protecting the environment and sustaining natural resources for current and future generations.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the average cost per prisoner per year in the United States is well over $31,000 and that figure will continue to rise. Going green is just one of many ways in which the nation’s correctional facilities can work towards creating a sustainable, cost-effective prison system.

[Related Article: States Can Save Money Prioritizing Education Over Incarceration]

Shift Toward Green Practices
A simple Internet search for “Green Prisons” led me to the Green Prisons organization, which has actively formed partnerships with the American Jail Association and the American Correctional Association in an effort to adopt and implement sustainable green technologies, programs, initiatives, and strategies. Even the National Institute of Justice has joined in the movement by supporting and encouraging correctional leaders to use cost-effective sustainability programs and products.

Environmentally sustainable practices in correctionsGoing green is a multifaceted concept that focuses on alternative, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly technologies and energy consumption. A 2014 U.S. Department of Energy presentation to correctional leaders suggested that some simple upgrades to eco-friendly and newer appliances and systems would produce significant cost savings and remain environmentally friendly.

For example, prisons should consider replacing older heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), re-lamping old lighting, and replacing older appliances such as water heaters, dishwashers, and laundry machines. The U.S. Department of Energy presentation noted that the California Correctional Institution upgraded the prison’s boiler system and by doing so, saved 430,116 kilowatts of energy and $317,476 in one year!

Prisons That Have Gone Green
Several correctional facilities have adopted sustainable practices. The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) has earned a national reputation for its efforts to make both its operations and facilities more sustainable. Through the Sustainability in Prisons Project, the Washington State DOC has formed unique partnerships that have:

  • Reduced overall negative impact on the environment.
  • Made operations more efficient.
  • Improved prisoner morale.
  • Assisted with wildlife restoration.

Similarly, the Cedar Creek Correctional Center in Washington State has created a collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment in which incarcerated men and women play key roles in conservation and advancing scientific knowledge. The Sustainability in Prisons Project encourages teamwork, mutual respect, and a stewardship ethic among individuals who otherwise have little or no access to nature or opportunities in science and sustainability. Their vision is to raise awareness, save tax dollars and natural resources, and help incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives.

One of the many benefits of the Sustainability in Prisons Project is the collaborative approach to forming partnerships with incarcerated men and women, university students and faculty, corrections staff, local community organizations, and conservation, sustainability, and science organizations. The responsibilities and training offered to participating prisoners help increase morale, provide a sense of empowerment, and develop a sense of dignity and pride.

Encouraging More Correctional Facilities to Go Green
As the field of corrections continues to evolve, the need to educate correctional facilities about smarter, greener solutions becomes imperative. In response to this need, the National Institute of Corrections has introduced the Green Corrections Challenge to brainstorm new ideas and effective best practices for sustainable corrections. The Green Corrections Challenge lays the foundation for future green projects and takes steps toward developing a community of individuals who are driving green innovation.

AMU Criminal Justice Professor Michael PittaroAbout the Author: Professor Michael Pittaro is a 27-year criminal justice veteran, highly experienced in working with criminal offenders in a variety of settings. Pittaro has lectured in tertiary education for the past 13 years while also serving as an author, editor, and subject matter expert. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public safety/criminal justice at Capella University’s School of Public Safety Leadership.



Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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