TED Conversations

Lauren Hawkins


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From ivory tower to prison cell: How can we bring conservation efforts to the public?

Conservation and other environmental movements have long been viewed as the initiatives of a select group of people. Rare, an international conservation group, seeks to change conservation policy by turning it into a movement that derives support from the public. As there website states, “conservationists must become as skilled in social change as in science; as committed to community-based solutions as national and international policy making.”

How can this be accomplished? The Sustainable Prisons Project in Washington State offers a novel approach to Rare’s mission. This project, a partnership between The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections, allows inmates across Washington to participate in environmental education, sustainable practices, and science research projects. Learn more about this program at http://blogs.evergreen.edu/sustainableprisons/stories/prisons-with-nature/.

Creative conservation initiatives like the Sustainable Prisons Project help both the conservation movement and the participants of the program. How can we expand this project to other parts of the global community in order to fully bring conservation to the forefront of political and social discussions?


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    Jun 6 2012: This sustainable prisons movement sounds awesome. Volunteers with more time than anyone and the muscles to do it. This project has the starting potential to bring change and influence to the lives of citizens, ecosystems, the wild, and inmates. Inmates are allowed the chance to truly give back to society in a way that effects everything positively. A movement they will be proud of and a movement that can hopefully chance peoples perspective about earth.
    • Jun 7 2012: I agree that allowing prisoners to get outside the prison walls and into the community could be just the rehabilitation that our justice system needs. This way, they would be spending their time helping others and maybe gaining a new perspective on life at the same time. This system must be fairly strict though because I don't feel that prisoners should be treated as slave labor, but allowing them to do things like volunteer work does not seem like a bad thing to me.
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        Jun 7 2012: I see what you're saying about prisoners doing the things we don't want to do. Hmm, it's kinda like bioremediation, where flowers that can soak up the negative toxins from the soil can make it amenable for new flowers to move in, until the soil is green again. While some tasks could certainly be a good way to punish prisoners and get something done at the same time, we're trying to make people better when they get out than they were to begin with, so you want to foster a love of nature, not disgust.

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