CHILLICOTHE — The solar project is just one green initiative at Ross Correctional Institution and across Ohio’s prisons.
The system began working in 2007 to identify ways to reduce electricity and begin recycling programs at its institutions. In June 2012, the system finalized a three-year strategic sustainability plan to keep initiatives moving forward, said Jenny Hildebrand, energy conservation and sustainability administrator.
At RCI, Dwight Presler, the prison’s business administrator, said they bought new shower heads to reduce water consumption and installing motion sensor lighting in certain areas. Future plans include changing over outdoor lighting to plasma/LED lights, which could mean about a 66 percent reduction in the amount of energy needed to light the campus at night, Presler said.
While similar efforts are going on at other institutions, they all also have created a recycling program that provides jobs for inmates, saves money on refuse hauling, and brings in revenue.
Currently, there are 70 RCI inmates involved in some kind of conservation job, Presler said.
“Anything we want or do with conservation, we build an educational component with it,” Hildebrand said.
The program has saved the state $2.2 million over three years and generated $1 million through selling the recyclables, such as aluminum and cardboard, Hildebrand said.
At RCI, Presler said they were spending $90,000 a year on refuse hauling and the recycling program has reduced that cost to $35,000. On the revenue side, RCI generated about $19,800 over the last six months, he added.
The revenue made from selling recyclables is split, with half going to the institution to spend on its green initiatives and the other half goes to the state to decide how to reinvest back into green programs across the system.
To boost the amount of recyclable revenue, Presler has been working with vendors to have all drink products at the institution be in aluminum cans rather than plastic bottles.
Presler also is cultivating plans to purchase a pulper that takes moisture out of food waste, to lessen its weight, and also to begin composting. He has hopes to start a greenhouse and wants RCI to be part of a new prison program that works with nature and science.
About five months ago, Marion Correctional Institution became a home for eastern hellbenders, which has been listed as an endangered species in Ohio, Maryland, Illinois and Indiana. The goal for MCI inmates is to successfully breed and raise the hellbenders so they can be successfully released back into the wild.
“The offenders are so engaged in it and the science involved,” Hildebrand said.
Inmates also are building concrete homes for them that will be placed into streams when they are reintroduced into the wild, Hildebrand said. The Wilds and the Toledo Zoo have partnered with the prisons for the project and regularly conduct on-site check-ins.
Meanwhile, inmates at Southeastern Correctional Complex in Lancaster operate a trout farm that helps feed zoo animals. Other programming across the state include things like gardening and bee hives.