Aug 10, 2012

prison science

According to this article in Nature News, University of Utah researcher Nalini Nadkarni has been devising and carrying out conservation projects that put prisoners to work. At one women's prison, inmates have released 800 endangered butterflies and are rearing 3600 caterpillars for next year's release. They also conducted egg-laying experiments and determined what science had not yet learned: the native host plant of the endangered Taylor's checkerspot, which turned out to be a threatened plant, the golden paintbrush.
At an Oregon prison, inmates are rearing tadpoles of the endangered Oregon spotted frog, and their experimentation with rearing conditions have resulted in a protocol that yields bigger, healthier frogs than professionals in zoos and laboratories had been able to manage. Similarly, inmates in a prison greenhouse discovered that smoke-infused water provides nutrients that increase germination rates in several declining prairie plants. Prairie ecosystems are often fire-dependent.
Rates of recidivism and violence have dropped while knowledge and conservation have advanced. There is an immense supply of such projects that could involve not just prisoners, but homeless or unemployed individuals, giving them new skills and a new sense of purpose. Behind the tiresome barrage of negativity and obstructionism poisoning the airwaves there are solutions large and small to many challenges. Conservation organizations should take note.

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