Oregon, Washington Prison Inmates Enlisted To Rear Threatened Plants & Animals

Inmate Adrianne Crabtree and ODOC Captain Chad Naugle plant violets in a meadow of the Siuslaw National Forest to support recovery of the threatened Oregon Silverspot butterfly. | credit: Larkin Guenther Institute for Applied Ecology
Inmate Adrianne Crabtree and ODOC Captain Chad Naugle plant violets in a meadow of the Siuslaw National Forest to support recovery of the threatened Oregon Silverspot butterfly. | credit: Larkin Guenther Institute for Applied Ecology


By Tom Banse, Earthfix

In a growing number of Northwest prisons, inmates are rearing endangered plants, butterflies, turtles and frogs for release in the wild.

It started just over a decade ago at a minimum security prison near Olympia. Now inmates at four Washington prisons and three in Oregon are raising dozens of different types of plants, insects and animals to use in restoration, many of them rare or endangered.

Tom Kaye directs the Institute for Applied Ecology, one of the partners in the Oregon Sustainability in Prisons Project. He said the advantages of working in prisons outweigh the security complications.

“The inmates are capable of giving more attention to these organisms than anyone else because they have more time to commit to it,” Kaye said. “They can really nurture and take care of these animals. The same thing is true for these plants.”

In Oregon, inmates at the state prison near Ontario are growing sagebrush to support habitat restoration for the greater sage grouse. Inmates at a correctional center in Salem are rearing threatened golden paintbrush on the prison grounds for seed production. Female inmates at Oregon’s Coffee Creek prison grow the early blue violet, which provides sustenance for rare butterflies when out planted on the Oregon Coast.

Oregon Department of Corrections sustainability coordinator Chad Naugle said, “There is huge interest on the inside” to get these work assignments.

Kaye described gardening as a “calming” activity for inmates, who in addition can acquire vocational skills while they help to rehab the environment. “There are substantial gains on all sides,” said Kaye. “We’re able to get so much more done for ourselves in the mission we are trying to accomplish… it really helps us extend our capacity.”

Prison nurseries in the older program in Washington state have raised 64 different plant species for restoration of South Puget Sound prairies according to Sustainability in Prisons Project program manager Kelli Bush. The Washington program has also partnered with Northwest zoos and state and federal agencies to rear endangered animals as well.

“Since 2009, over 700 federally-threatened, state-endangered Oregon spotted frogs have been reared from eggs to adults at Cedar Creek Corrections Center,” wrote Bush via email from Olympia. “Frogs are released into Pierce County wetlands each fall. To increase the sustainability of this project, crickets are raised as a supplemental food source.”

The minimum security Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women near Belfair raises the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly from larvae for release into the wild.

The Washington prison program was co-founded by The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections in 2003. Participating inmates are paid a nominal rate for their labor. Federal and foundation grants cover most of the program costs.

This was first reported for the Northwest News Network.

Inslee Launches Review Of Prison Population Growth

By Austin Jenkins, NW News Network

Washington state’s prison system is projected to need 1,000 new beds by 2018. And that growth has Governor Jay Inslee concerned.

Governor Jay Inslee meets with his newly-appointed Justice Reinvestment taskforce.
Credit Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network


The Democrat Tuesday announced a Department of Justice-backed review of the state’s criminal justice system. The goal is to look for ways to save money without jeopardizing public safety.

In Washington, crime and arrests are down. Still as the state grows, so does the prison population. Already the system is running 2 percent over capacity. To keep up with the growth, Washington has been looking to build a new prison. But what if there was a way to reduce the need for prison beds without releasing people who could be dangerous?

Inslee has appointed a 21 member taskforce to examine Washington’s sentencing system and look for ways to keep people from going back to prison again and again.

“So before we consider investing in a new prison, it really is important for us to take a look at this opportunity to see what smart, common-sense, data-driven, cost-benefit, evaluated efforts we can undergo here,” Inslee said.

Inslee said everything is worth considering from prepping inmates better for release to the early release of aging inmates.

Washington is one of four states participating this year in the national Justice Reinvestment project. That means the state will get funding and support from the U.S. Department of Justice and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Texas inmate denied locks of dead parents’ hair

Texas prison inmate William Chance poses for a photo at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Michael Unit on Oct 1.(Photo: Michael Graczyk, AP)
Texas prison inmate William Chance poses for a photo at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Michael Unit on Oct 1.(Photo: Michael Graczyk, AP)

Michael Graczyk, Associated Press

TENNESSEE COLONY, Texas (AP) — William Chance wants to connect to the spirits of his dead parents from his prison cell. All he needs is a lock of their hair for a Native American ritual he believes will help find them.

It’s not an easy task for an inmate in the Texas prison system, which considers the hair a security risk and has barred Chance’s family from delivering it. A federal appeals court says the request appears harmless and has sent the case back to a lower court for review — a ruling that could stretch Chance’s already long wait into 2014.

“The hair is just the connection to their physical spirit,” Chance, 57, said from East Texas’ Michael Unit prison, where he’s among some 85 prisoners who participate in Native American religious activities about twice a month. “This is something that our family has always done. The fact I’m not allowed to do that, it makes me feel bad.

“Sometimes I feel haunted, like I’m letting them down, and I realize my life in the past has been a pretty big disappointment for them.”

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled Texas should not have flatly denied Chance’s access to the hair, but agreed other requests he sought on behalf of a group of Native American prisoners were properly refused, such as smoking a nearly foot-long peace pipe and burning ceremonial herbs for what’s known as the Smudging Ritual.

Prison officials argued inmates sharing a pipe would be a risk for spreading disease and smoke from burning herbs threatened to set off fire detection systems.

But the court described the hair lock as “benign.”

Chance, whose grandmother was a Cheyenne from Lame Deer, Mont., was more than 15 years into a 65-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when his parents died in 2008 and 2009. He asked the state to allow him possession of 4-inch locks of their hair about as thick as pencil lead for the “Keeping of Souls” practice, so he can mourn the deaths and reconnect with them for their “path to the creator.”

When the state denied the request, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit in June 2011 on Chance’s behalf. It argued the prohibition violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which bars discrimination or unduly burdensome restrictions on individuals and religious organizations.

“The spirit of a person remains in the remnant,” said Chance, who was convicted in 1992 by a Denton County jury. “And your behavior while you’re carrying this … you give them a little spiritual power so they can travel on the way,” he explained, saying it’s like a “guardian angel.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says it denied Chance’s request because items that aren’t from approved vendors could be used to smuggle in drugs and contraband. Inmates must also purchase anything they want through the prison commissary, agency spokesman Jason Clark said.

Chance does have a “medicine bag” approved by Texas prison officials that includes an 8-inch strand of horse hair threaded through a hawk’s wing bone. According to court documents, those items were procured though vendors approved by the prison system.

Attorney Scott Medlock, who handled Chance’s case, said it was “odd and very strange” the prison agency would allow Chance to have natural items such as horse hair, but refuse his request for his parents’ hair.

“He’s not making this stuff up,” Liz Grobsmith, a Northern Arizona University anthropologist with expertise in Native American religions and how they’re practiced in prisons, said Tuesday. “One of the most common basic items in the medicine bundle is a lock of the deceased’s hair.”

She said Chance “cannot follow the prescribed ritual according to his faith,” equating it to “a Catholic wanting to go to church and take communion and being told you can’t have absolution and can’t take communion.”

A scheduling conference is set next week before a federal judge in Tyler, where the hair issue is set for trial in January. In the meantime, Chance said a brother has the hair for safekeeping.

“Let’s just say I’m not happy with the 5th Circuit’s ruling because of the fact the most important parts of Native American spiritual practices were dismissed,” he said. “Spirituality of the Cheyenne people is really heart-touching.

“I’d like to have my so-called day in court.”