In March, Circle of Blue reported that the Shimo la Tewa prison near Mombasa, Kenya, is to replace its broken sanitation infrastructure with an artificial wetland to clean its wastewater. Funded in part by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), it is the first project of its kind in Kenya.
Shimo la Tewa’s new system uses gravity to pipe waste water 200 meters away from the main prison buildings to a screen that traps the solid waste. The remaining effluent enters a septic tank to break down anaerobically before it flows through the wetland, which is filled with plants that naturally filter pollutants, such as water hyacinth.
When the wetland is completed in April 2010 it will provide the added benefit of recycled water that the prison can put to economic use. Shimo la Tewa will install aquaculture ponds that will create work for prisoners at a neighboring minimum security facility, [Shimo la Tewa's Senior Sargeant Paul Cheruiyot] said. Any excess water will irrigate plants on the prison grounds.
As estimated by UNEP, “operating and maintenance costs for the constructed wetland are roughly $50 per person served, compared to $300-$500 per person for the pumped systems.”
Though mindful of the ethical implications of using inmates as guinea pigs, we're nonetheless tempted to think that prisons are, or most likely have always been, ideal testing grounds in which to form and develop new and alternative systems to redress conditions of resource scarcity. It's not shockingly revelatory to say that these carceral spaces are really miniature cities or the whole world condensed, continually concerned with issues of food, health and shelter. Increasingly burdened with over carrying capacity and diminishing financial inputs, they're on a perpetual crisis mode, a disaster in waiting, just like the world outside their walls. One could thus understandably assume that such threat of catastrophe would turn a prison into a hotbed of innovations.
POSTSCRIPT #1: See The Walking Dead.