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FHI 360 helps corrections facilities go green to save money, protect environment

March 05, 2013

Facing a growing prison population, burgeoning operating costs and an expanding carbon footprint, more corrections facilities across the United States are adopting “green” practices to save money, help protect the environment and equip inmates to pursue jobs in the emerging green economy after they are released.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections (NIC), FHI 360 and its partners worked with the state corrections departments of Maryland, Minnesota and Washington state during the past year to help them more fully integrate green practices and programs into their facilities.

“Green programs and practices can and should fit within the mission of correctional facilities,” said Stephanie Davison, senior program officer with FHI 360. “They can save money while creating a healthier environment for anyone inside or outside the prison walls.”

One important resource for helping the corrections field adopt green practices is The Greening of Corrections: Creating a Sustainable System, which was developed by FHI 360 and its partners and released by the NIC. The publication explains sustainability practices and principles, gives examples of successful green programs and offers recommendations and guidance for making correctional facilities more sustainable.

Overcoming challenges

Drawing on the recommendations in the publication, FHI 360 and its partners helped the three states develop strategic action plans that included drafting policies for implementing new practices; creating strategies for getting buy-in from corrections staff, inmates, external partners and other stakeholders; and establishing procedures, timelines and goals to monitor progress and performance.

“Each state has struggled as competing interests and time have pushed some green initiatives to the back burner,” said Davison. “But with proper planning and support, these challenges can be overcome.”

Under pilot programs in Maryland, facilities started composting and improving recycling practices to reduce waste and the cost of disposing of it. Now, inmates at one of the state’s largest correctional institutions are maintaining the grounds with rotary lawn mowers that use no fuel.

Minnesota’s corrections agency is working closely with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to track needs in the labor market and tailor their green training programs to meet those needs. The state also plans to incorporate green skills training into its carpentry and cabinetmaking courses for inmates.

In Washington state, corrections officials are changing procurement processes to buy more environmentally friendly goods and are setting annual goals for buying green products.

“Each state now has a framework to continue moving forward and a foundation that will serve as a springboard for future work,” said Davison.

What are green jobs?

According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, green jobs are:

  • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources
  • Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources