Prisoners Fighting Fires

By Dianne Frazee-Walker  Image courtesy grist.org

The California prison system is stepping up to the plate by fighting fire with fire.  Yes, that’s right — they are saving tax-payer’s money and providing low level offenders with valuable skills and purpose by putting them to work fighting wildfires. Another side benefit of this ingenious project is California’s prisons are emptying out because these inmates are earning earlier release dates and are not reoffending.

Demetrius Barr is one of the first Los Angeles County inmates to be granted the opportunity to leave his confined jail cell and enter a natural atmosphere of breathtaking landscapes and spacious campsites. Not only can Barr help save this precious land from the destruction of fire, but his own life can be salvaged from the unforgiving world of crack dealing.

Image courtesy justicenotjails.org

Barr doesn’t get to enjoy this new type of freedom for nothing. He receives this privilege by maintaining his fitness and best behavior, and being willing to fight thousand-degree flames. The best reward for fulfilling his commitment to the Pitches Detention center where he was trained, is earning good-time credits that will permit him to decrease his seven-year sentence by 35%. This would also insure that Barr “has what it takes” when confronted with a challenge as significant as a raging forest fire. 

The general public would be surprised if they realized about 50% of California wildfire fighters are prisoners and a few of them are incarcerated women. Capt. Jorge Santana, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) liaison who supervises the camps, confirms these inmates are dedicated to changing their lives while serving the public and are saving the state over $1 billion a year. Inmate firefighters are contributing a major positive impact on California’s financial and environmental well-being.

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Editorial: Fix the Hidden Costs Behind Prison Labor

Seattle Times Editorial  Image courtesy washingtonci.com KEEPING a thousand sets of otherwise idle prisoners’ hands busy is a fine idea. Make them contribute to their own room and board with jobs that offer a carrot for good behavior. As a

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New Zealand Puts Prisons to Work

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy www.odt.co.nz-

As part of a sustained initiative to decrease crime rates in the country, the New Zealand government is placing a major emphasis on getting today’s prisoners ready for employment when they go home. 

New Zealand’s crime rate is at a 35-year low, but the government intends to maintain the downward trajectory.  Its aim is to reduce crime by a further 20% by 2017.  Since repeat offenses by ex-cons make up a significant proportion of crimes, a major part of the strategy is to reduce re-offending by those who are already serving time.

The Department of Corrections aims to reduce re-offending by 25%.  Since a key factor in deciding whether a released offender will go straight or end up back behind bars is their employment status, a substantial effort is underway to ensure that inmates gain the skills and qualifications they need to obtain and keep a job.

Vocational training for real jobs.

Programs are being designed to lead to nationally-recognized qualifications that future employers will be happy to accept.  An example is the fifteen-week course leading to the National Certificate in Fitness Foundation Skills, which started at Rimutaka Prison in August.  Students are learning about nutrition, exercise, health and safety, customer services, and business practices in the fitness industry.

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Female Prisoners in Kansas Make Dentures for Low-Income Patients

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy prisonprofiler.com

The women of Topeka Correctional Facility in Topeka, Kansas are an interesting sort.  While some sweep, mop, wipe down tables, or engage in wholesale janitorial work assignments, a special group of 8 female prisoners make dentures for low-income patients through an innovative partnership between the Kansas Department of Corrections, Kansas Correctional Industries, and the Southeast Kansas Education Center at Greenbush.

Founded by the Delta Dental of Kansas Foundation, in 2007, the dental technician program employs 8 female prisoners at Topeka Correctional Facility, all of which were specially selected by prison administrators for program placement.  These female prisoners make dentures for Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved (KAMU) patients.

The process is complex.  The KAMU clinics make an impression of the patient’s mouth.  This impression is then sent to the female prisoner dental technicians at the Topeka Correctional Facility, who create a wax and plastic teeth mold of the impression.  This temporary mold is then returned to the KAMU clinic to ensure that the fit is perfect.  Once approval is granted, the mold is sent back to the prison, where the female prisoner dental technicians use plastic teeth and hard acrylic to craft the final set of dentures.  These are then delivered back to the KAMU clinic for delivery to the eagerly awaiting patients.

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Federal Prisoners Build Homes for Needy Families

Image courtesy facebook.com By Christopher Zoukis  We here at Prison Education News don’t often have the opportunity to report good news concerning educational and vocational training programs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, so today we’re pleased to be able

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Healing: Prisoners and the Environment

Image courtesy dogwood33.blogspot.comBy Dianne Frazee-Walker

The Sustainability in Prisons Project’s (SPP) main objective is to educate prisoners about environmental conservation. The inmates are learning innovative ways to use nature’s resources to save tax-payers money in their own prison backyard. The project involves collaboration between Washington State Department of Corrections, Evergreen State College, inmates, prison staff, scientists, and community members.

Not only does SPP save money and the environment, but it provides prison inmates with a sense of dignity. They learn teamwork and leadership skills by working together on the prison grounds using nature’s resources to sustain the environment. 

Inmates are provided with an opportunity to improve their lives on the inside and the lives of those living outside. The key fringe benefit the prisoners receive is exposure to nature. Most incarcerated individuals are confined inside prison walls and are rarely exposed to the outdoors. Working outside has healing effects on the human psyche, which is what the detainees need when it is time to function outside of prison.

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Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation: Oregon Prison Gardens

Inmates within the Oregon Prison system have the unique opportunity to grow organic produce within their prison gardens. In 2008, the Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation began working in one Oregon prison to teach horticulture and sustainable gardening practices. Today, this organization works in several Oregon correctional facilities creating gardens and gardeners.

The Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation uses volunteers who are Master Gardeners to help with the education of inmates in learning the skills of organic and sustainable gardening. Most of the correctional facilities have donated an acre of land for the inmates and volunteers to garden on. The produce is used internally within the prison system and a large portion of the produce is donated to affiliates of the Oregon Food Bank. 

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Safe Harbor Prison Dogs

Safe Harbor – the sound of that gives one a feeling of safety after a difficult time. And that is just what Safe Harbor Prison Dogs is all about – providing a safe place dogs who face euthanasia. 

The dogs are rescued from high-kill animal shelters throughout the Midwest and brought to Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas. Over 100 inmates have been trained as dog handlers and the dogs and inmates create a strong bond that is healing for both the prisoner and the rescued dog.

The inmate/handlers take great pride in working with the dogs and the first job they do with the dogs is to address social behavior with these animals. Many of these dogs have been abused, neglected or treated badly in other ways and have lost trust in humans. Many of the prisoners have had rough lives as well – and the socializing behavior works for both the inmates and dogs.   

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