Green Collar Jobs. The Next Product Line for Correctional Industries?

By Tommy Norris, President & CEO, GreenPrisons, Inc.


The last several years have been a period of rapid growth for sustainable projects in correctional facilities nationwide. Infrastructure improvements, recycling, composting and lighting changes are just a few of the ways that correctional facilities/agencies have begun to save money and in some cases generate revenue streams.

Professional associations, like NCIA and ACA, have responded to this emerging trend by documenting case studies and examples from throughout the country. This issue of NCIA News is dedicated to highlighting “Green” programs in Correctional Industries around the country. The April edition of the American Correctional Association’s (ACA) Corrections Today, devoted the entire publication to “Eco-Friendly Corrections.” Both publications featured numerous articles on the advantages of “Going Green.”

At the Winter Meeting of ACA in 2010, the first permanent committee on sustainability was held as a result of its creation by ACA President Daron Hall. The energy behind creating the committee came from former Commissioner John Rees of Kentucky and former Secretary of Corrections in Louisiana Richard Stalder.

I was asked to chair the “Clean and Green Committee” (the name given to ACA’s committee) and I quickly found out I had much to learn about the sustainability movement, and its potential in corrections. As a result I created a non-profit organization on sustainability in corrections … GreenPrisons. The purpose of GreenPrisons is to provide a bridge between correctional practitioners and providers of sustainable products and services in corrections.

At GreenPrisons we believe that sustainability in corrections can only be seen as successful if it does three things:
1. Saves money and/or generates revenue
2. Provides meaningful job assignments and job training for inmates
3. Helps improve the environment of the communities in which our correctional facilities operate.

I believe Correctional Industries can play a major role in each of these areas.

Sustainability’s capacity to save money through energy conservation, updating of appliances to high e® ciency models, and increased use of biofuels is well documented at both the residential and industrial environment. But how does that fit into the Correctional Industries model?

Because of the forward thinking of several correctional administrators there are a number
of examples including:
• The assembly of solar panels by Federal Prison Industry (UNICOR) which employs 140 inmates and 14 sta… members at FCI Otisville
• The HVAC training laboratory included as a part of an HVAC renovation with Johnson Controls by the Virginia Department of Corrections
• The statewide distribution of green cleaning chemicals as the result of a partnership between Kentucky Correctional Industries and PortionPac Chemical Corporation

Perhaps one of the most productive, and yet untapped sources of revenue and job training can be the e…ffective management of the institution’s waste stream. Most of us have been involved in the recycling of cans and to some degree paper, cardboard, etc., but are you getting the maximum benefit from your e…fforts? Further, the reduction or elimination of cartage fees for kitchen waste, cooking grease, motor oil, etc. can be not only a source of revenue but provide green collar job training as well.

The Putnamville Correctional Facility in Indiana is a classic example of the revenue that can be generated through sustainability e… orts. As featured in a recent webinar hosted by, Indiana shared their success in generating over $94,000 in savings as a result of sustainability efforts over a three year period ending in 2011.

The Western Kentucky Correctional Complex has joined a six county consortium for recycling, generating $70,000 in savings and revenue for the consortium last year and employing a number of female offenders who are learning new skills including resource management and fork lift operation.

Perhaps the most ambitious sustainable project today is the proposed plan to “deconstruct” the Maryland House of Correction. While saving the state money by using inmate labor for much of the work, these o…ffenders will also be learning real world skills in how to abate asbestos and lead paint while salvaging materials that will have a high market value on the resale market. Maryland hopes to actually get this project started toward the end of 2013.

So exactly what is a “green collar” job? According to Peter Angelides in a Time magazine article from 2008 “It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment.”

If that’s not also a great defi nition for Re-Entry …I don’t know what is. After all, is not one of the main purposes of the correctional experience the desire to provide inmates with the skills they need to return to society as contributors not burdens? We are replete in our correctional history of stories of creative employees who have on their own initiative, and in some cases based on their own experience developed training programs designed to help o…ffenders have a better chance for success once released.

During a visit to the Putnamville Correctional Facility in Indiana during the GreenPrisons Symposium last year, I had the opportunity to meet a dormitory sergeant who had so embraced the notion of sustainability in his institution that he had created a certified training program on the subject for inmates. What was really impressive was that he did this on his own with virtually no cost to state government. By researching various federal government websites he found a Department of Labor (DOL) training program in recycling that resulted in a DOL certificate when completed. He adapted the program for corrections, creating his own lesson plans for delivery of the program and presented it to the inmates. The result was a cadre of inmates who took pride in the sanitation of their dormitory and the accomplishment of this training goal. When we toured the facility, these inmates told us about their recycling program, how they collected and separated items, as well as involved their fellow inmates in the recycling process.

Of course there are great examples of mega projects from around the country like the
aforementioned solar panel assembly project, or the green cleaning distribution project by PortionPac Chemical Corporation that incorporates a certificate in green sanitation, but all of these e…fforts are clear examples of the ingenuity of correctional practitioners and the partnerships that can be formed to introduce new product lines to correctional industries.

Correctional facilities by their very nature are large consumers of energy, producers of waste and in some instances, occupy very desirable real estate. It is for these reasons, if not for the intrinsic value traditionally associated with the “Green” movement that facility managers should make an e…ffort to improve the communities in which they live.

Recycling projects similar to one at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex is but one example of a number of community activities that correctional facilities are involved in. The State of Washington has long participated in the growth and preservation of some rare animal and plant species, cultivated by inmates as part of a cooperative project with Evergreen College. The Lafayette Parish (Louisiana) Sheri…ff’s Office Corrections Division has a number of these projects on the local level. Perhaps most unique of their projects is the recycling of worn out uniforms into pet beds for the local animal shelter.

The examples are there, and the opportunity to save money, generate revenue, provide
meaningful work experiences and contribute back is all around us in corrections. It remains for the innovators among us to find the best way to do that in our own situation.

Tommy Norris is the President and CEO of GreenPrisons, Inc. Learn more about sustainable corrections at