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The Greening of Prisons
By William Sturgeon
Published: 06/04/2012

Greenbuilding The nation’s correctional agencies are finding out that the traditional operational budgets are being reduced. America, and the world, has found itself in a seriously recessive economy; channeling funds to correctional facilities is being curtailed.

Being a somewhat skeptical old security guy, I thought about the best approach for introducing Green Materials, Technologies, Methods, etc., into the world of correctional facilities, as well as the long term and short term savings for such a transition. One thing I have found is that just because something has been labeled “Green” does not mean it will save “operational” funds for correctional facilities.

I have a blog on corrections.com entitled “View From the Porch” from the “Old Man”. I have reached an age, with years of experience and attitude, to say what I feel. So, here goes!

Every time people try to do something – anything new in a correctional setting- the naysayers go into a full defensive posture! Their battle cry is “That’ll Never Work Here”! Believe me, good intentioned people; I have lived through three significant transitional movements during my correctional career:
  • The introduction of technology

  • The introduction of computers for offender use

  • The introduction of “Direct Supervision”
Each of the three was fraught with unforeseen potholes. I am going to briefly explain some of the more challenging potholes we found, so that my colleagues associated with GreenPrisons.com will be prepared, as well as those companies who will be installing the new green products.

Introduction of Technology

About 30 plus years ago, technology was overtaking the civilian world by storm. While this might seem trite, I can remember the first major change. For years and years, an adding machine (Look it up on Google, if you don’t know what it is.) was in the Captain’s Office. This “Honored and Venerable” machine was the official instrument used to tally the 4 daily counts. The Lieutenant would operate the keys with the Captain closely watching the result. A long stream of paper would fall over the edge of the Lieutenant’s desk. These long streams of paper would then be rolled-up and kept IN THE SAFE – forever!

That “Honorable and Venerable” adding machine was retired, and replaced by an “ELECTRONIC CALCULATOR”. Oh, how the correctional world would never be the same! Within two days, the Deputy Warden for Security was inundated with complaints about this incompetent, electronic demon that was so disrupting correctional security. I relate this story to illustrate how the smallest change to the daily routine in a correctional environment can become a monster.

The second example I want to share with you about the implementation of technology in a correctional environment deals with fence penetration devices. The “operative words” in the previous statement are “Correctional Environment. “

Initially, correctional administrators enjoyed being shown the “Top Shelf” High Tech fence penetration devices, similar to those used on “Top Secret” military installations. Oh, the wonder of it all they thought. They could do away with perimeter patrols and every other gun tower – the “silver bullet” had arrived. Then reality hit when the administrators learned the cost of this new technology. There was no way they could go to their legislatures or governors to ask for that kind of money.

So these administrators went to their local electronic stores and bought off-the-shelf electronics similar to those used to keep your dog in the yard. Needless to say, they didn’t work, and the staff soon found ways of disarming them, which continuously generated false alarms.

Introduction of Computers to the Offender Population

Before permitting computers in correctional facilities for use by offenders, the “LINE STAFF “ was never consulted for their input. The offender population was getting new computers and hours of instruction on how to use them. Yet, the staff did not have any computers and had no idea of how to use them. This created more problems than you could imagine. For the sake of time, I will only explain what I believe were the most important mistakes.

Before introducing computers into the secure facility, there should have been thorough vetting by the security staff. Unfortunately, the security staff at that time lacked any training, knowledge and/or understanding of how computers worked. It wasn’t long before the offenders were more knowledgeable about computers than the staff.

Before the correctional staff caught on, the offenders were making passes, stamps, food stamps, and accessing the Internet using their computers.

Introduction of “Direct Supervision”

Today, “Direct Supervision” is a way of life, but when the concept was first introduced, it caused a great deal of consternation among the line staff.

Some administrators and “Direct Supervision” zealots, in my opinion, “overpromised” the cost savings in the areas of staff reductions and staff efficiency.

Administrators did not, in my opinion, explain the entire concept of what “Direct Supervision” was about. Line supervisors and staff cranked-up the rumor mill, because no one shared the “FACTS” with them.

The officers’ workstation would be located inside the cellblock. “Holy moly Batman”, this will never work; officers will be taken hostage, assaulted, raped, killed.

The administrators did not take the time to explain the entire concept such as:
  • Offender classification

  • Response teams

  • Disciplinary action
There was training available from the National Institute of Corrections. While this training did touch on some of the issues that the line staffs were facing, it, in my opinion, did not address the operational issues being faced by the line staff. After a substantial amount of wasted energy and time, the “Direct Supervision” concept finally became a successful reality.

Offenders Get Cable TV

In the 1980’s a Christian group was going to pay for the installation of cable television into a major penitentiary. Their goal was to bring Christian programing to the offenders. What a marvelous idea, right? No, wrong!

Needless to say, some of the staff went through the ceiling. Inmates getting cable TV! What would be next, etc., etc.! Some of the outlets would actually be in the cells, with the remainder being in every dayroom. What they forgot was that there weren’t any arrangements made, including the TV cable outlets, for any of the staff areas. While this was a major blunder, it was not the most significant one.
“ The installation company made the most significant blunder. They did not fully understand that doing “anything” in a secure prison setting is very time consuming, The installation company also did not fully understand the concepts of tool control, and moving from inside the secure area to outside to get something from their trucks.

The installation company’s employees became victims of being ‘gamed’ by the offenders. They were caught bringing in cigarettes, mailing letters for the inmates, bringing letters to the inmates, etc.”

Why, you may be asking, did I write this lengthy introduction? It is because we must learn from past mistakes. I believe that the “Greening” of the nation’s correctional environment has to happen, and I don’t want the mistakes of the past to curtail the process in any way.

Suggestions / Recommendations

The following suggestions to any / all correctional agencies and companies should be acted upon prior to entering into any “Green” projects.

Identify the entire project

Conduct a comprehensive product search (Do a complete check into any of the companies that sell the product that you are looking to use.)

Have the company define the projected cost savings in writing

Define the entire scope of the job IN DETAIL

Include all training in the purchase price

Insure that, if necessary, repair technicians can be on-site in X number of hours. Have the vendors identify who and where the repair services are located.


I have found that the best way to check on a product, company, etc., is to interview “similar” type agencies to ascertain the level of their satisfaction.


This isn’t your father and mother’s correctional environment. We in the field of criminal justice, and corrections in particular, must search out and implement technologies that will help reduce operational costs, but at the same time, increase sustainability and efficiency.

Here is one last word of caution. Prior to purchasing or installing “ANYTHING” new to a correctional environment, make sure that a “COMPLETE” security assessment is conducted. There are fences, walls, gun towers, security gates, cameras, etc., to keep the offenders in and the would-be attackers out.

Now, with the introduction of technology, we must insure that those “electronic systems” are as secure as our physical perimeters. It is my belief that cyber attacks will be (is) a serious security concern that needs immediate attention.

While I have pointed out some issues that could lead some of the readers to believe that I am against “Greening and Sustainability” of correctional facilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Correctional agencies “MUST” find way of reducing operating costs.

Mt. Sturgeon is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division.

Visit the Bill Sturgeon page

Other articles by Sturgeon:


  1. Dennis Speer on 06/19/2012:

    Ferguson Safety Products is now selling Green cleaning products and Green construction chemicals. I have a vested interest in the Greening of Corrections because it will make me money. Those of you that know Ferguson also know we carry quality products and provide real live English speaking humans answering phones. I see the greening as meaning less environmental impact, which means less whining and moaning from the citizenry. It also means those inmates on cleaning crews won't be playing with potentially toxic brews they can use against officers as well as each other. Now that we have some green products that actually work there really is no reason to not go green. Cost may be the issue with some green products but I will put Ferguson's green line up against any standard products as well as any other "green" offerings. One of the sad things is that many supposedly 'green' products are that in name only. If you really want green you have to check the labels and certifications. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there so don't get fooled. I was a state employee for 30 years before coming to Ferguson Safety and I got sick and tired of smelling that "mountain fresh" pine scent that could gag a maggot. Low volatiles and less caustic are great.

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