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Kentucky’s Warden Of The Year Looks For Sustainable Solutions

Kentucky’s “Warden of the Year” Joe Meko, is a 35 year veteran with experience in both the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC). Meko began his career in the BOP in May of 1979, and started to work for the DOC as Warden of the Little Sandy Correctional Complex, one day after his retirement from the Bureau on September 1, 2007. Warden Meko brought with him a reputation for innovation and that management approach fit in well with Kentucky’s newest (2005) and most technologically advanced institution according to the DOC’s website.

During a recent visit to the institution GreenPrisons had the opportunity to tour the institution and see some of the sustainable programs at work.

We first visited the Education Department where there is a robust horticulture program underway with large green houses and a Master Gardener program. The Master Gardener program is overseen by Mary McCarty of the Elliott County Extension Service. During our visit her students were making presentations about a recent project in which they grafted new seedlings that would soon find themselves contributing to other state wide projects as soon as the weather warms.

Pictured with Warden Meko on the left is Ms. Mary McCarty, Elliott County Extension Office, Sergeant Stephen Harper, Fire and Safety Officer (center in dark uniform) and David Sturgill, Horticulture Vocational Instructor far right and the men of the Master Gardener class.

Obviously proud of their accomplishments these offenders were more than ready to share not only what they had accomplished, but how they had done it. Several saw this program as a potential path to employment on their release from confinement.

Next on the tour was a visit with Ricky Bear the recycling manager for the institution. Mr. Bear indicated that the institution strives to recycle 100% of its trash thus reducing its impact on the local landfill. As a result of the effort by inmates and staff Little Sandy these recycling efforts have produced a savings of more than $850,000 in trash hauling and disposal fees.

Our final stop was in the Industry area. Correctional Industries plays a significant role in Little Sandy’s operation and employs a significant number of offenders. Probably the largest numbers of inmates are employed in the compact disc recycling program. Through a contract with an outside vendor Little Sandy receives 10 cubic foot bales on a regular basis that are then dissembled with the shredding of the plastic CD’s and cases and the baling of the paper inserts. This operation employs 82-90 inmates and generates over $18,000 in revenue monthly.

GreenPrisons applauds the efforts of the staff and inmates at Little Sandy. Having had the opportunity to visit with a number of both groups it is clear they play a large role in Warden Meko’s success and he would be the first to acknowledge that.

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