Tenn. county prison hosts event to help prisons go green

Director: "We're trying to get a bigger bang for the taxpayers and then be environmentally effective"

Linda A. Moore
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Corrections facilities use massive amounts of water, heat and electricity, the experts say, a problem which brought about 30 people who run prisons in the area to a meeting about green initiatives.

“We’re trying to get a bigger bang for the taxpayers and then be environmentally effective,” said James Coleman, director of the Shelby County Division of Corrections, which hosted the event. “So we’re looking at every aspect of how to recycle, how to save energy, how to maximize what we’re doing in the facility.”

Efficiency has a lot to do with retrofitting old equipment, and finding new ways to do more with less, Coleman said.

The corrections division’s initiatives are a blueprint for the rest of county government to follow, said county Mayor Mark Luttrell’s.

“Specifically, we were looking for a good place to start our sustainability efforts and director Coleman has always been very aggressive when it comes to things like this,” Luttrell said.

Participants included officials with Tipton County, the Tennessee Department of Correction and the Obion County Sheriff’s Department.

They are hoping to find ways to cut costs, said Capt. Dennis Dean, Obion jail administrator.

The August unemployment rate for Obion County was at 11.2 percent. “And revenue is not what it was a few years ago. We’re trying to look at every angle to try to save the taxpayer money,” Dean said.

Company representatives at the event explained the benefits of everything from composting to solar-heating panels. One company spokesman said the Indiana Department of Corrections saved more than $850,000 in one year by using solar panels to heat water.

The event was organized by Tommy Norris, founder of GreenPrisons.org of Lexington, Ky., who spent 40 years in prison administration, including at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the National Institute of Corrections and state institutions.

Norris said he began the nonprofit after being unable to find any resources to improve the environmental impact of prisons.

He said his project is designed to generate savings and revenue, and to use inmate labor while giving prisoners opportunities for job training.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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