Going green may not seem like a main concern for a correctional institution, especially when security, safety and cost-efficient operations are top priorities. But the benefits of environmentally friendly facilities are causing correctional facilities nationwide to find more ways to save energy, which can lead to improved rehabilitative and correctional environments.
However, correctional facilities have unique needs that can make this quite a challenge.
Offsetting High Energy Use
Correctional facilities use relatively large amounts of water and electricity because of their 24-hour occupancy levels and usage needs. The R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, Calif., which houses over 4,000 inmates and 1,300 support staff, uses over 290 million gallons of water per year at a cost of over $1,900,000, according to a 2005 audit*. Some facilities, including the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent, Wash., attempt to reduce electrical usage by using natural daylight in some interior spaces such as dayrooms. However, for security reasons, current prison designs may not permit exterior windows within cells.
Some Facilities Already Saving
Facilities around the country are assessing their current energy waste and savings opportunities, and some are already reducing costs. With rising natural gas prices, correctional facilities are using alternatives such as wind power and solar energy. The Phoenix, Ariz., Federal Correctional Institution uses sunlight to heat 50,000 gallons of water daily for inmates and staff, saving tens of thousands of dollars yearly. The Federal Correctional Center in Victorville, Calif., generates electricity with a wind turbine and a covered parking structure equipped with solar panels. The Indiana Department of Correction uses biomass corn boilers as a less expensive, cleaner-burning source for many of its energy needs.
North Carolina’s Butner Federal Prison is the first LEED-certified correctional institution in the U.S. (LEED™ is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council and stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) This medium-security campus houses more than 1,100 inmates and uses environmentally friendly design and maintenance for its buildings and grounds. The facility’s outside areas are designed to deflect summer heat. Large amounts of water are saved by using low-flow plumbing fixtures and landscaping that needs little irrigation.
In California, San Mateo County replaced its outdated juvenile justice facility in 2006 with a new Youth Services Center that complies with the county’s green building policy. The campus uses an energy-saving cogeneration plant for lighting, heating and hot water. Cogeneration generates both electricity and heat.
It creates more energy by reusing the excess heat that would usually be wasted in a conventional power plant. Efficient plumbing fixtures were installed at the center to reduce water use by as much as 20 percent. A specially designed "cool roof" (a roof made of light-colored materials and covered with a coating to reflect sunlight) greatly reduces the building’s heat absorption, saving on air conditioning costs and reducing roof maintenance.
To reduce outdoor watering, the landscaping includes drought-tolerant native plants. The recreation field is constructed with synthetic grass and recycled tires, reducing water and maintenance costs. Whether a facility starts with a big plan or small efforts, many opportunities exist to save energy and reduce costs. Creating an energy-efficient facility also helps correctional institutions benefit local economies and save taxpayers’ money.
*Audit performed by Water Management, Inc. as commissioned by the San Diego Water Authority and Otay Water District.
Additional information for this article came from web sites of the following sources: "Services for Administration of a Pilot Commercial and Institutional Water Use Survey Project"; Federal Bureau of Prisons; U.S. Department of Energy Federal Energy Management Program; San Mateo County Youth Services Center Press Packet, September 2006; Timmons Group; Correctional News; Indiana Department of Correction.