Inmates in isolation at a Washington prison are finding some solace with a glimpse into the natural world.
Over the next few weeks, Washington Corrections Center in Shelton will give prisoners in solitary confinement the option of spending an hour outside the cell watching nature videos, the Associated Press reported. The prison hopes providing videos of the outside world will help calm inmates in isolation and foster safety throughout the facility.
The project, called the “Blue Room,” is named after and follows a similar initiative implemented by Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Institution. To help prisoners cope in isolation, the facility sought inspiration from a 2010 TED Talk by forest ecologist Nalini Nadkarni, Oregon Live reported, which stressed the importance of nature for inmates ― particularly those in solitary confinement. Often these prisoners are confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day or more, with a small amount of time allotted for recreation, like running or jogging, but it’s rarely enough of an outlet.
“I’ve seen over the years how an inmate will come into the facility, and they’ll almost appear to be completely normal,” said Capt. Randy Gilbertson, who oversees Snake River’s Intensive Management Unit, as reported by Oregon Live. “After a phase of isolation, those guys ― especially those guys with mental health issues ― tend to decompensate. They break down and go a different route. And it brings out a whole different person in them.”
So the facility began playing nature videos, aimed to prevent violent outbursts and reduce chaos among inmates. A Oregon Youth Authority researcher studied and compared the disciplinary records of Snake River IMU inmates before and after the Blue Room opened and found prisoners who experienced the room had slightly fewer disciplinary infractions than those who didn’t, according to Oregon Live.
Washington corrections officials met with administrators at Snake River in 2014, to take on the project as their own. The Blue Room at Washington Corrections Center, about 30 miles northwest of Olympia, is a partnership with the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which has implemented similar nature-focused projects like beekeeping and gardening for inmates. Though still in the preliminary stages, the Washington facility is hopeful the projections will make a positive impact.
“Whatever we can do to men and women while incarcerated to make them more human,” Nadkarni told the Associated Press, “less violent, less anxious, it seems that benefits society as a whole.”
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