More Than Just Green: Correctional Industries Sustainalbility Efforts Transform Prison into Centers of Social Benefits


More Than Just Green: Correctional Industries Sustainalbility Efforts Transform Prison into Centers of Social Benefits
By John E. Fike

Efforts to “go green” have transformed Washington’s state prison system into a powerhouse of social benefits—completely dispelling prison systems’ traditional rap as necessary evils that only consume tax dollars and resources. Washington State Correctional Industries (WSCI), the job training arm of Washington’s Department of Corrections, generates an estimated $32.50 in benefits for every dollar spent on the agency—an achievement largely accomplished through a focus on sustainable practices.

Charged with training felony offenders with job skills that will help keep them out of prison in the future and with reducing the Department of Correction’s reliance on tax dollars, Correctional Industries has found that focusing on sustainable practices and environmentally friendly products increases its ability to fulfill that mission. Although WSCI’s environmentally conscious changes started as an effort to fulfill state-mandated sustain-ability targets, it quickly became evident that such changes multiplied the effectiveness and positive social impact of WSCI’s programs.

Offenders preparing baked goods at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Reduced Recidivism through Increased Training Opportunities
New programs, like CI’s paper and plastic re-cycling program, enable WSCI and the Department of Corrections to reduce landfill-destined waste while creating new jobs for offenders who are needed to collect, transport, sort and pack-age the materials before being shipped to recyclers. WSCI’s mattress recycling program—which processes 52,000 mattresses a year and keeps them out of landfills—also provides additional of-fender jobs. The new jobs created through these programs also increase the variety of skills CI can teach because they use different processes and materials than existing operations.

Offender workers sorting through cardboard and plastic for recycling

New production areas like the upcoming aquaponics operation not only provide additional jobs, but also teach offender-trainees about closed- loop systems, alternative energy sources and other environment-specific knowledge areas. While raising fish for WSCI’s meal production lines, the water from the fish ponds will feed hydroponic vegetable gardens. Once the vegetables filter the water by consuming the fish effluent, it will be returned to the fish ponds to minimize consumption of municipal water. The skills required for this operation will differ greatly from those required for manufacturing furniture or other products and thereby enhance the variety of job skills WSCI can provide.

Additional job and training opportunities are also being created through WSCI’s efforts to increase efficiency at existing operations. At one facility, WSCI cut a 30-day order processing time down to four days. At another facility the uniform manufacturing process was converted from a push- flow system to a pull-flow system. Whereas the push system involved huge inventories of components and finished product, the pull system manufactured each uniform from start to finish as ordered, reducing inventories and wasted materials. These and other efficiency improvements created enough additional manufacturing capacity that WSCI was able to launch another clothing line. The added line created more jobs and training opportunities and an additional revenue stream through new product offerings. Similar experiences are expected at WSCI’s other facilities as they implement lean manufacturing strategies.

Offenders sort through shoes gathered from the state’s correctional system for delivery to victims of the earth-quakes in Haiti

Sustainable & Lean Manufacturing Increase Skill Level, Leading to Higher Employability and Lower Recidivism.
Offenders in WSCI’s programs receive training in running computer-controlled machines, man-aging operations, designing products, logistics, driving forklifts, and much more. Many of them receive certification in certain skills. Additional training in sustainable practices, lean processes, alternative energy sources, closed-loop production systems and similar skill areas qualifies WSCI trainees for jobs that pay much higher wages, providing greater incentive to avoid the criminal or anti-social behavior that could land them back in prison.

Embroidery and screen printing services at the Washing-ton Corrections Center for Women

When offenders have the skills and resources to establish and maintain a law-abiding life Washington communities are safer, their work and in-come-earning capacity contribute to local economies, and incarceration costs are lower because the former offenders don’t return to prison. And all this is easier to accomplish when the offenders are trained in the high-wage potential skills that sustainable practices and lean manufacturing provide. As an added benefit, the offender- trainees develop an awareness of environmental issues that they take out into the community where they model sustainable practices in their daily lives.


If you would like to learn more about Washington State Correctional Industries, visit their website at: