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Environmental Programs Grow a Better Prison System


By Sarah Hicks

The Prison Policy Initiative creates a yearly pie chart that details the makeup of the U.S. prison system. In 2017, 2.3 million U.S. citizens were imprisoned in 5,961 facilities nationwide, ranging from Indian Country jails to federal and state prisons. About a quarter were imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes (including 7,200 youth), and 16,000 for nonviolent immigration charges.

Following their incarceration, a staggering portion of these inmates will then get caught in “jail churn,” officially known as recidivism. Many of those released from the prison system come right back.

Being confined with other criminals for years at a time creates psychological damage and social stunting. So, although education, early release and job training programs are in place in prisons, the system continues to expand. There’s been a 500 percent increase in the last 40 years, according to The Sentencing Project.

Countless problems need addressing throughout the system, but one approach that can help is to make prisons more environmentally compatible. Although the United States is the global leader in incarceration, the prison system also offers real opportunity for betterment.

Going green can help prevent “jail churn” in two important ways:

1) Mental environment: Universities from the University of Minnesota to Stanford, as well as organizations such as GreenPeace, have carried out studies showing the linkage between human well being and nature. It’s clear that daily exposure to the natural environment reduces symptoms of anxiety, stress and even depression. In correctional facilities, one of the most “violent and stressful environments,” it’s especially needed.

This is particularly true for inmates held in solitary confinement. Statistics show that the more than 80,000 inmates each year who spend time in solitary confinement are more likely to commit violent crimes during the jail churn.

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