7 ideas for correctional leaders who want to “go green”

With the annual cost to house a prisoner in the United States well over $31,000 and rising, why wouldn’t the nation’s facilities examine both environmentally conscious and cost saving options?


With the reality of ever increasing costs in operating and maintaining a jail, more facilities across the U.S. are considering the option or are making strides to turn their jail “green.” Reducing their carbon footprint in an effort to help protect the environment and simultaneously educating inmates for employment in green industries upon release are the 21st century priorities being contemplated by correctional facility leaders across the nation.

Operation of a correctional facility is 24/7. Continual use of electricity and water with ever fluctuating occupancy levels makes for very large utility bills. The R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego (Calif.) which houses more than 4,000 inmates including 1,300 support staff used over 290 million gallons of water annually

With the annual cost to house a prisoner in the United States well over $31,000 and rising, why wouldn’t the nation’s facilities examine both environmentally conscious and cost saving options? Going green might not be the number one priority on the table for correctional executives, however the benefits of being environmentally conscious are too great to ignore. Facilities around the country are taking a closer look at their resource waste and potential cost savings opportunities. 

With climbing natural gas prices, many correctional facilities are using wind power and solar energy as an alternative. In Arizona, sunlight is used to heat 50,000 gallons of water daily for correctional staff and inmates. In Victorville (Calif.), a wind turbine and solar panels generates facility energy. The green Youth Services Center in San Mateo (Calif.) uses an energy saving cogeneration plant for facility lights, heat and hot water

Based upon a state mandate, the Oregon Department of Corrections replaced old appliances with energy efficient ones, installed solar water heaters and a geothermal well. The department also fitted their washing machines to recycle rinse water to wash additional clothes monthly. The California Department of Corrections has addressed their conservation through applying twenty first century technologies such as teleconferencing, high performance materials and high efficiency building systems.

Turning a correctional institution into a green facility involves adopting environmentally and ecologically responsible practices. By going green, the correctional industry can move toward a cost-effective and sustainable prison system

Here are some ideas for correctional leaders who want to go green:

•    Creation of an advisory “Going Green” team. A well balanced team will include advisors from many divisions such as vocational, educational, custody and maintenance. Charge the team to collaboratively develop a plan to incorporate sustainability practices throughout the facility, among staff and inmate population. 

•    Recycle and reuse what is typically thrown away. Delegate staff and inmate population to sort and recycle waste. Composting and recycling will reduce operating costs, landfill waste and employ incarcerated individuals.

•    Modify the facility water usage procedures by creating and installing a facility rainwater recycling system. 

•    Start on site gardens to off-set food costs. Donate excess produce not used in facility to local charitable organizations like local food shelters.

•    Implement a chemical free cleaning policy using environmentally friendly and plant based cleaning solutions.

•    Upgrade to eco-friendly and newer appliances to reduce energy usage and increase long term cost savings. Replace old lighting, air conditioning, heating and filtration systems. Although a larger expense up front, the long term savings would be substantial.

•    Consider installing solar panels and solar-powered water heaters.

Correctional facilities in this country can play a huge role in helping to protect the environment. With a population of more than two million incarcerated individuals in federal and state prisons in the United States, correctional facilities could lead the way in helping to sustain natural resources for future generations and still see a significant savings to their annual budget. 

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