A Prison with Purpose Inmates Pioneer Recycling by Making Quilts

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The Leadership Lab staff at Hutchinson Correctional has pioneered various recycling programs with inmates.

Inmates at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility in Hutchinson, Kansas, a maximum security state prison holding 1,870 men, are sewing quilts. Their fabric of choice is cut-up prison clothes from their own or another facility. “The quilts don’t have the artistic quality of a quilt made by a grandmother for her grandchildren, but the men are pretty quick making them,” says warden Sam Cline.

The men use a donated sewing machine and an electric rotary cutter, instead of long scissors that might present security and safety issues. Once finished, the quilts are dropped off at the Gracious Promise Foundation in Kansas City, Kansas, and a veteran’s hospital in Wichita. Inmates have made 1,351 quilts and kept 13,790 pounds of clothing out of landfills since 2009, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA honored Hutchinson Correctional for its recycling programs in 2011, not only for the quilt project, but also for a mattress recycling program.

About 12 inmates recycle mattresses, while a correction officer coordinates the work activity and arranges delivery of beds from 13 Kansas counties from college dormitories, an army base and hotels. The inmates separate the mattresses into components such as foam, steel, wood and cotton to be recycled.

“A lot of the men are environmentally conscious. They like doing something for the earth,” says Cline.

Between 2010 and 2011, inmates processed 17,388 mattresses diverting 1,781,842 pounds of material from landfills.