Raising bees and capturing rainwater: U.S. prisons go green

Solar thermal mirrors heat water at the Jefferson County jail in Colorado.

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Photo by David Parsons/Courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Blogging on EARTH

The flagging economy may complicate federal aspirations for a green revolution, but at least one government entity has adopted the movement in stride: state prisons.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, prisons across America now host the likes of compost heaps, organic gardens and solar panels in an attempt to save precious state budget money.

For example, one prison in Indiana has saved $2,280 a year in energy costs by installing one wind turbine. Inmates at North Carolina facilities weathered this summer’s water shortage by converting 50-gallon pickle barrels in rain-capturing cisterns. Another prison in Washington averted a $1.4 million sewage treatment plant upgrade through projects like raising bees, growing organic vegetables, composting 100 percent of food waste and recycling shoe scraps as playground turf.

The savings are especially welcome by a critical government service that functions 24/7, according to AP: "In 2007, states spent more than $49 million to feed, house, clothe, treat and supervise 2.3 million offenders, the Pew Center on the States reported this year."

And those costs aren’t likely to go down. Since 2000, prison construction has increased as the prison population skyrockets, from 1.3 million in 2000 to more than 2 million, according to the report.

Brian Fisher Johnson
Tuesday, November 4, 2008 - 10:30