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Five urban garden programs that train inmates and help communities

Prison gardening programs teach inmates valuable skills, reduce recidivism, and provide those in need with fresh produce.

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GreenHouse in Action: The recidivism rate for graduates of the program is 5 to 10 percent, compared to 65 percent for the general inmate population. Some GreenHouse alumni find permanent jobs with landscaping companies, receiving salaries as high as $30,000 per year. The Green Team has been an active organization in New York City bringing gardens to public schools all over the city. In 2009, the Green Team helped put a garden at the Walt Whitman Library in Brooklyn.

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4. Insight Garden Program: Developed in 2003, and in collaboration with San Quentin State Prison in northern California, the Insight Garden Program (IGP) provides rehabilitation to self-selected prisoners through organic gardening. Inmates learn valuable life skills, including responsibility, discipline, mindfulness, and how to effectively work in a group setting.

The IGP’s classes include course curricula and hands-on experience in a 1,200-square-foot organic flower garden in San Quentin’s prison yard. Inmates learn about landscaping and gardening, developing practical skills in planting, irrigation, propagation, budgeting, and design. By working in an organic flower garden, participants develop an awareness of their impact on their social and natural environment.

Insight Garden Program in Action: A 2004 thesis written by a student from Pepperdine University found that the prison garden program was beneficial in several key ways, including providing focused activity, a sense of refuge, stress reduction, and a safe, neutral territory in an otherwise divisive prison yard.

Currently, Planting Justice teaches a course on urban permaculture and organic food production to the 30 men enrolled in the IGP course, involving inmates in the planning, design, implementation, and maintenance of their native plant and flower garden. In 2010, Planting Justice hired a former convict and participant in the garden.

5. The Garden Project: In 1982, while working at the San Francisco County Jail as an inmate counselor, Catherine Sneed and Sheriff Michael Hennessey began the Horticulture Project as a way to teach life lessons and skills to inmates through organic vegetable gardening. Recognizing the need for a program to help former offenders confront challenges and difficulties post-release, Catherine Sneed began The Garden Project in 1992 with a mission to provide job training and support to ex-inmates through counseling and assistance in continuing education. Since its inception, the Garden Project has become a flagship program for successful post-release rehabilitation and fostering positive relations with the communities from which convicts come. 

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