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New lessons, new lives

Prison inmates help endangered frogs and butterflies—and themselves.

Spotted Frog

Oregon Spotted Frogs are raised in captivity, then released into the wild.

In Washington State, the Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections have implemented the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a program that offers prison inmates the opportunity to participate in conservation, scientific research, and sustainability projects. According to the SPP website, the inmates are introduced to educational and employment opportunities that they may pursue after release, reducing recidivism.

In early 2009, SPP partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on a project to restore endangered Oregon spotted frogs, which are declining due to loss of habitat and predation by exotic bullfrogs. The project involves raising the frogs in captivity until they are mature enough to be released into the wild. Two inmates work as ecological research assistants inside the prison, where they feed and clean the frogs, collect data, assist with research studies, and install and maintain equipment in the frog rearing shed, which can now accommodate up to 400 frogs. The frogs are released into protected wetlands in the fall.

Checkerspot Butterfly

The endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, once widespread in the Puget Sound

SPP has also been working since 2011 with inmates of the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women to breed and rear endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. The butterflies used to be widespread in the Puget Sound region, but are now found in only a few areas. Graduate students from Evergreen State College are trained by experts at the Oregon Zoo’s endangered butterfly lab, and they, in turn, train and work with three or four prison inmates. The prison-based facility raises up to 2500 checkerspot butterflies a year, which are then released onto south Puget Sound restoration sites.

Got expertise in conservation science or sustainability?

SPP is on the lookout for presenters and researchers interested in inspiring and training inmates and correctional staff through guest lectures and hands-on workshops. To learn more about participating in the Sustainability in Prisons Project, contact Kelli Bush, Project Manager.