Ecology in Prison

Aug 11 2010 Published by under [Biology&Environment]

Nalini Nadkarni is a biologist at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington who is an expert on tree canopy ecosystems. She also does a considerable amount of science outreach to the public.

One of the educational programs she organized is the Sound Science program for urban youths that combines science and music by rapper C.A.U.T.I.O.N.., which sounds like it was a lot of fun for the participants.

More unusual is her Sustainable Prisons Project, which teaches ecology and biodiversity conservation to prisoners in several Washington state prisons. The goals of the program are broad:

Our mission is to reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices. Equally important, we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners.

Some of the research projects that prisoners have been involved include raising endangered frogs and  figuring out to grow moss for the horticultural trade

The education isn't only academic. The program also helps prepare inmates for "green collar" work by teaching them skills like hydroponic and organic gardening, beekeeping and pest control. At least one participant hopes to work for the U.S. Forestry Service when he is released.

And Nadkarni points out that the program has emotional benefits as well, by providing the prisoners an "intellectual and physical connection to the outside world".

Here's a video about the program.

See also Nalini Nadkarni's brief TED talk.

I know this may seem like an odd first post, since I assume that most of you readers don't spend the bulk of your time in a prison cell. But I think it's a good example of how science - both the knowledge of scientific facts and the process of scientific inquiry - can have a positive impact even for populations outside of the mainstream of society.

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