The greenhouse complex inside Washington State's Stafford Creek prison near Aberdeen lies beyond two metal detectors and three sally ports topped with razor wire.Which belies the question of why they should be paid at all; their incarceration is costing the public plenty of money already; one would think they'd be happy for an opportunity to do something other than sit in a cell or lift weights. But maybe they're all victims of the American justice system's tendency to jail people convicted on victim-less crimes?
That's where a small crew wearing standard prison-issued khakis do the work. Months from now, the flowers that emerge will be transplanted to remnant prairies around Puget Sound to provide food for endangered butterflies.
"These plants are so fickle,” said inmate Toby Erhart. He and his fellow inmates have plenty of time to nurture, experiment and hone their craft on tray after tray of seedlings.
"You cannot have a nursery that produces these for money because they would go broke -- or the cost would be so high that nobody could ever restore anything,” Erhart explained. “That’s why this is such a good fit to have prisoners doing this because... well, I mean they don't have to pay us much."
Participating inmates are paid a nominal rate for their labor -- less than a dollar an hour.
Erhart is serving time for child rape. He said his greenhouse work has made him more observant and "conscientious."Or maybe not.
Those sorts of outcomes account for why the program caught on with prison superintendent Pat Glebe.I was sort of wondering why this showed up the the Chesapeake Bay news feed until I got to the end:
"It helps with the level of violence in the prison because these inmates all of a sudden have something to do,” Glebe said. “They see the value in it. And they see the value of giving back.”
At a state prison in Ohio, inmates are rearing endangered Eastern Hellbender salamanders for release in the wild. In Maryland, inmates do some of the heavy lifting to prepare bags of oyster shells used in restoration of Chesapeake Bay.But, now what will we do with the middle and high schoolers that we traditionally used for this task, as part of their mandatory volunteer credits required to graduate (yes, that's correct, Maryland has mandatory volunteerism).
This program bought and paid for by the Federal government:
The National Science Foundation provided money a few years ago to propagate the sustainability in prisons idea from coast to coast. Some other places where inmates are providing conservation muscle include California, Maryland and Ohio.