Prison cuts costs with push mowers

MONROE, Wash. – Push mowers rolled back and forth across a green lawn at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

Tony Turner, serving time for assault and hit and run, was behind one.

Her face was beaded with sweat late Monday morning.

“It’s a good workout for the arms and legs,” said Turner, 28.

Prison authorities realize that this is also a good way to save money.

Monroe Prison joins a growing list of state prisons that are cutting budgets with environmentally friendly practices. Walk-behind mowers, for example, reduced gas mileage in Monroe by about 100 gallons per month.

“It’s the advantage when you have the time,” said Monroe Prison Warden Scott Frakes. “No need to switch to high technology. “

Environmentally friendly programs are nothing new in prisons. Tight budgets aren’t either. However, both are increasingly common.

The state wants to cut 1,580 beds from the prison system, which could save $ 65 million over four years.

Monroe Prison – the largest in the state, with an annual budget of $ 106 million – escaped drastic cuts last year but still has to operate under strict conditions.

“We have no reason to believe that we won’t have to cut our budget further this year and maybe next year,” Frakes said. “The need for efficiency is going to affect everything we do.”

This is where environmentally friendly practices come into play.

Some of them have been in place for years. But other projects are more recent, like the one where inmates receive old mattresses, break them down into components – metal, padding – and ship whatever they can for recycling.

The state doesn’t know how much money it can save by expanding programs like composting and gardening throughout the prison system.

Because it is the largest facility in the state, Monroe can help determine those numbers.

“You are applying all of this on a much larger scale,” said Dan Pacholke, deputy director of state prisons.

Take the composting program. It started in 2004 at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, a 500-person minimum-security labor camp outside of Olympia.

Monroe launched his own carefully controlled program in June. By the end of the year, he saved $ 43,000 on waste bills. The program redirected 1 million pounds of food and waste away from landfills. This compost can end up in stores and possibly in neighborhood gardens.

While budget pressures are a driving force behind the programs, the new initiatives have benefits beyond the bottom line.

For example, these push mowers make the prison a bit safer. They keep detainees away from gasoline, which can be used as a weapon, drug or barter.

“All kinds of unwanted stuff,” Frakes said.

The jobs also act as a reward, improving discipline. Anecdotal evidence suggests that inmates are less likely to break the rules when they know they could lose a job they enjoy, prison officials said.

This certainly appears to be the case with Rory Brown, 47, who will be in prison until 2034 for rape, burglary and armed robbery.

Brown is working in the gardens, new to Monroe this year. Work keeps him out of trouble. It makes him feel good. He knows the tomatoes he grows will end up in his own meals, and the flowers can fill a garden bed outside the prison walls.

He was in a greenhouse on Monday, tending to the flowers – the impatiens.

“We’re all excited because they bloomed,” he said. “We’re like a bunch of old ladies.

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