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Jailhouse Greens

shutterstock_57802567Gardening programs have been popping up in prisons across the United States and can be found from Rikers to San Quentin.  Inmate gardening programs offer a wide range of benefits to both the inmates themselves and the surrounding communities.

Health Benefits of Gardening

There are many medical benefits to gardening that can be enjoyed by inmates and non non-inmates alike. Gardening is a form of exercise that can be practiced by people with a wide range of physical activity ability, which can make it an important tool for keeping healthy and fighting obesity. According to the National Institute of Health gardening for 30-45 minutes is considered moderate exercise and is comparable to 30 minutes of walking or biking. Research has shown that 30 minute of gardening daily increases flexibility, strengthens joins, decreases blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lowers risk of diabetes and slows osteoporosis.

Gardening can also be beneficial for mental health. Horticultural therapy has become a popular practice in treating a wide range of ailments including stress, anxiety, and depression. The activity of gardening teaches patience and also improves self confidence.

Benefits of Inmate Gardening Programs

Benefits from inmate gardening programs range from increasing access to healthy foods for the prison to reducing the recidivism rate. In 2004, Pepperdine University Graduate Student Kathryn Waitkus wrote her thesis on the effects of San Quentin Prison in California starting their new Insight Garden Program. Waitkus conducted interviews with program stakeholders including prison staff, inmates participating in the program, and an inmate control group. Waitkus found that being near or in a garden reduced stress, created an environment neutral from segregation, built a community among participants, and inspired feelings of hope and possibility for change.

Garden programs also teach inmates valuable skills that can be applied to finding work when they get out of jail. Designing a garden not only teaches inmates about horticulture but can also teach inmates about budgeting and design.  Rikers’ program Greenhouse provides inmate participants 9-12 month paid internships after they leave prison, which can later lead to permanent careers in landscaping. Inmates in Rikers’ Greenhouse have a recidivism rate of 5-10% while recidivism rate for the general population is 65%.

The fruits (and vegetables) of the inmates labor benefit a variety of people. Produce finds it’s way into the prison kitchens, providing fresh food for all inmates or is donated to local food pantry’s. Philadelphia’s Root to Re-Entry has donated 47,000 pounds of organic produce to needy families in the Philadelphia area.  Prison gardening programs are only available in a limited number of prisons so imagine the benefits increased implementation could have.

 For more information please visit:

http://www.worldwatch.org/urban-garden-programs-reach-out-inmates-and-risk-populations

Gardening Via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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