Elmwood inmates create water-saving landscapes

MILPITAS, Calif. -- Inmates dressed in prison stripes mixed with Santa Clara County officials Friday at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas where the Sheriff's Office unveiled water-saving landscaping projects created by teams
of male and female convicts.

The minimum-security inmates were taking part in the county's Sustainability in Jails Project to recycle water, install mulch, drought-resistant plants and drip irrigation systems and convert the jail's food and other waste into compost, sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Kurtis Stenderup said.

A nursery in San Jose has donated dying plants for replanting by inmates on the jail's 62-acre grounds and offenders have built greenhouses
and learned composting methods such as placing kitchen food scrapes for consumption by worms, sheriff's officials said.

Sheriff Laurie Smith and Supervisor Cindy Chavez were among guests at a ribbon cutting ceremony at a circular island around a flagpole next to the women's section of Elmwood, where female inmates planted native California plants and flowers and covered the area with woodchip mulch to keep the moisture in.

The audience included the team of women who worked on the flagpole project and the men who landscaped other parts of the jail's grounds, including the turf on a large soccer field known as Candlestick, Stenderup said.

Smith said the sustainability project's goals are to improve the jail's environment and reduce recidivism among inmates by teaching them landscaping and recycling through onsite classes by Milpitas Adult Education and hands-on work in the field.

"You're learning skills that you'll be able to take out into your life, because we don't want to see you back here again, either," Smith told the inmates.

Chavez said the vocational program is assisting inmates to stay more in control of their futures when they leave the jail.

"You bring plants back to life," she said. "You studied and you made a choice to do something productive with your time here."

Katrice Maciel, an inmate involved in the project, said she believed the experience would "help me when I go into the community to become a better, productive member of society, and to get on with my life and not have to come back here (and) build my self-confidence and my self-esteem."

Jill Boone, the county's outgoing Sustainability Manager who helped direct the project, said it began in 2010 when the Board of Supervisors directed county officials to reduce water usage and divert 75 percent of the government's waste sent to landfill.

Since then, the county recycles the used water at the jail to irrigate the property and cut back on organic waste products that went to landfills from 83 percent in 2010 to 26 percent this year through composting and recycling, Boone said.

The processing of organic waste at the jail now saves the county $65,000 annually in landfill fees, she said.

Elmwood currently houses more than 2,200 men and 600 women, with a staff of sworn deputies numbering 320, according to sheriff's Capt. David Sepulveda, the jail's commander.
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