The Sustainable Prisons Project


You usually learn about sustainable living in glossy design magazines or hip blogs (ahem, Cool Green Science!), but prison seems an unlikely source to find eco-inspiration.

Until now. 

The offenders at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington are going green through a partnership with The Evergreen State College and The Nature Conservancy. The project is saving money and resources and helping enrich lives.

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a faculty member at Evergreen and a Washington trustee for The Nature Conservancy, started the Sustainable Prisons Project in an attempt to cultivate tree mosses to supply the floral industry. Growing mosses with the help of offenders reduced the amount of natural mosses harvested from the Olympic rainforest.

Now the program works in two Washington prisons, where offenders learn how to raise endangered Oregon spotted frogs, reclaim wastewater, recycle on a massive scale, nurture honeybees and propagate rare and threatened prairie wildflowers.

The Nature Conservancy works with Stafford Creek to grow threatened prairie perennials—Conservancy staff supply the seeds and teach interested offenders how to plant them. The manpower is helping the Conservancy sow 200,000 seeds, doubling our capacity! After the plants grow, we’ll plant them as part of our efforts to restore Washington’s native prairies.

The partnership helps our prairies, but perhaps even more rewarding, it helps offenders develop important skills to use when they re-enter society. And if a prison can go green, save money and enrich lives, what’s stopping the rest of us?

Jocelyn Ellis is a marketing specialist with The Nature Conservancy in Washington.

(Photo: Offenders at Stafford Creek plant native prairie seeds. Source: Daeg Byrne/TNC.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I find this so encouraging! I have worked with Prison Fellowship for years, basically teaching prisoners useful skills so they can become productive citizens. I’m a horticulturist who has used moss for more than 30 years, and knowing where it may have come from gives me great joy! For a prisoner to reconnect with God’s nature is wonderful, in itself, but to be able to “get their hands dirty” in it, is so gratifying. Great reporting, Joycelyn! 😀

  2. the prisons USED to be “sustainable” before before polititians and other government employees got there palms greased by other businesses (Correctional Industries) . Prisons used to grow there own vegatables, raise there own cattle, butcher and serve them. prisons used to produce there own milk too. greedy people getting back door deals cost the state more money with PREPARED FOODS instead of making it them selves.

  3. put’em on vegetarian diets, all of them! then make then grow their own! If they need meat, make them do aquaponics for fish! When they get out they’ll at least know how to feed themselves in a society where jobs are sold out by the Uber-rich to the Asians daily!

  4. PARCHMAN in MS. and ANGOLA in LA. have always been this way nothing new in the southern states, y’all just copying the southern way and claiming it’s your idea, figures. A lot of the counties have farms too. I agree with MIKE above, it’s a money thing.

Add a Comment