|Bringing Environmental Consciousness to Corrections|
|By Robert Winters, JD, Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Purdue Global University|
The environmental or “green” movement has a long history in the United States. However, the level of sophistication has gradually increased as social consciousness of the issue has grown. Forty years ago the shoulders of America’s highways were strewn with trash; readers of “a certain age” may remember public service messages featuring a tearful Chief Iron Eyes Cody and his silent plea to end littering. The Clean Air Act dates to 1963, but true pollution control was not implemented until 1970. The Clean Water Act dates only to 1972. The Environmental Protection Agency was not established until 1970.
Those were some of the first tentative (albeit vital) steps toward protecting the environment. We have since progressed through extensive recycling efforts to awareness of the carbon footprints of various industries and activities to a broad focus on sustainable living. The corrections field is no exception, and here environmental consciousness is growing.
It is not only the environment that benefits, either. In these days of tightening budgets, such measures reduce energy consumption and resource use. Moreover, true environmental consciousness means even broader and longer-term thinking: “green” reentry programs and vocational training for inmates have the potential to simultaneously reduce recidivism and boost the green economy.
One of the easiest places to start the greening process in an institution is with procurement. There is no single or simple definition of green procurement. The first and obvious criterion is a high level of post-consumer (recycled) content. Most paper products now in use—from copy paper to toilet tissue—already meet this standard, even without any real effort from buyers. However, there are many other ways to achieve green purchasing.
For example, some product categories are available that utilize closed-loop manufacturing. This means the entire content is recycled, as well as that the source material was fully recycled as well. Carpet is one example that is relevant in the corrections setting. Another option is products made from renewable resources. Plant-based food service items such as cutlery, cups, and foam containers are a good example.
It is not just the content of the product that matters. Packaging is also important. Look for products that use the minimal amount of packaging possible, as well as packaging that is recycled and/or recyclable. In addition, consider the product’s overall energy requirement. Something manufactured locally requires less transportation than something manufactured halfway across the country or halfway around the world. Consider how much energy comparable models will use over the course of their service lifespan.
Choosing truly green products can sometimes be challenging. However, the use of various third-party certifications can be incorporated into agency procurement policies. It is certainly possible to develop approved product and/or vendor lists internally, but this can mean far more time and effort.
While the opportunity to construct new buildings comes along but rarely, green construction brings with it many benefits. Correctional facilities operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Design has traditionally focused on what was most effective from a security standpoint, not what was most efficient from a heating/cooling or lighting standpoint. But in addition to budgetary constraints, increasingly state and federal policies are mandating improved energy efficiency.
Resource consumption is not the only mark of a green building, however. Even the initial site selection and development matters; the right choices enable land renewal and maximum use of available mass transit by staff and visitors. Construction should make the most use possible of materials that are recycled or recyclable, renewable, and/or produced locally. Interior design should focus on health (minimizing volatile compounds and other harmful chemicals in materials) and efficiency for the people who will use the facility.
There are two main benchmarks for building efficiency: Energy Star and LEED. Energy Star is familiar to most from the widespread use of its certification on appliances and electronics. It is rather narrowly focused on energy efficiency, however. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) takes a three-pronged approach it calls “people, planet, and profit.” The LEED scorecard system takes into consideration seven areas: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation and Design Process, and Regional Priority.
LEED is further refined to accurately evaluate new construction projects (LEED-NC), the renovation of existing structures (LEED-EB), and interior construction (LEED-IC). LEED standards have also been customized for health care facilities under the Green Health Care Initiative since these have significant differences from “typical” buildings. An initiative is now underway to create similar customized standards for correctional facilities, tentatively referred to as LEED-J (Justice).
Green efforts have paid real and quantifiable dividends. In the previous decade the Florida Department of Corrections undertook a pilot program to introduce new levels of energy efficiency in its operations. Even basic measures such as updated HVAC systems, more efficient lighting, new water fixtures, and a move away from older laundry and kitchen technologies produced savings of nearly $900,000 just in the first year of the program.
The green economy encompasses two basic employment categories. One is increased demand for workers in existing specialties, such as electricians required for power grid and electrical infrastructure upgrades or construction workers needed to build wind farms or biofuel plants. The other is in skills that are just now developing in association with emerging technologies. The good news is that many existing vocational programs can with relative ease be updated to prepare inmates for jobs in the green economy. While empirical evidence remains scant at this point, a New York City program in cooperation with the Horticultural Society of New York roughly halved recidivism among participants.
The initiatives and opportunities discussed here do no more than scratch the surface. The potential for environmentally-friendly practices in corrections is extensive, particularly in the area of facility design. Since it is unlikely that most professionals will have the opportunity to participate in the design and construction of a new prison in the near future, however, it is important to look at what can be achieved here and now in the areas of procurement, recycling, water conservation, and training programs.
About the author:
Corrections.com author, Robert Winters, holds a Juris Doctorate degree and has been with Kaplan University since 2004 where he is currently a full time faculty member. He is a member of the National Criminal Justice Association and serves as a Western Regional Representative, member of the National Advisory Board and their National Elections Committee. He earned his Juris Doctorate and Bachelor of Science in Law degrees at Western State University of Law, Fullerton, California.
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