Why Prison Gardens

There is a need for educational and training programs in prisons.

Correctional populations are less educated than the general public. 40% lack a high school diploma, compared with 15% of the general public.

Research also consistently demonstrates that low academic skills, underemployment, and a criminal lifestyle are interrelated (Laub and Sampson, 2003; Western, 2006).

The cost of educational and vocational programs is outweighed by savings in recidivism rates.

Improving the employment opportunities of formerly incarcerated individuals increases their ability to earn a living wage and engage in more prosocial behavior (US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, Nondegree Credentials in Correctional Education Status, Challenges, and Benefits. Washington, D.C., 2016).

Researchers found that $1 million investment in correctional education programs prevents 500 crimes, while a similar investment in prison expansion prevents 340 crimes (Bazos, A. and Hausman, J., 2004).

Meta-analysis of 1,000 studies to assess post-release outcomes of rehabilitation programs proved that education in prison reduced post-release recidivism by 16% for academic program participants, and 24% for vocational program participants (What Works in Corrections: Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents, MacKenzie, DL., 2006).

Adults with a criminal record need help with employment post-incarceration.

Without a comprehensive reentry plan that reinforces the students’ education and career goals, many students experience frustration and failure after release (US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, Nondegree Credentials in Correctional Education Status, Challenges, and Benefits. Washington, D.C., 2016).


Horticulture programs offer multiple benefits.

Benefits for inmates during incarceration include stress reduction, alleviation of depression, social growth, mental rehabilitation, and wellness (American Horticultural Therapy Association, ahta.org; thehort.org). Staff find improved mental health leads to improved behavior with staff, peers, and family members (Personal communication, 2013-2015).

Benefits for offenders after incarceration include increased vocational skills which impact successful re-entry. Landscaping and similar jobs in the green economy do not demand background checks. Employment in this sector is available, and predicted to grow in Massachusetts within the next few years (USDA.gov, 2014).

Benefits accrue to communities surrounding correctional facilities. In 2016, prison gardens facilitated by The New Garden Society yielded over 600 pounds of fresh produce, expanding healthy food access for neighbors experiencing food insecurity.

Benefits accrue to communities where offenders return. Vocational training designed to ensure job placement decreases the likelihood of new crimes and violence, and costs to taxpayers for incarceration.

Why the Green Industry?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities in horticulture are expected to increase 20% between 2015 and 2025. Nationwide, 71 percent of all U.S. households or an estimated 82 million households participated in one or more types of lawn and garden activities in 2011. There is a need for a skilled and knowledgeable workforce in this growing industry.

Additionally, half of all current farmers in the U.S. are likely to retire in the next decade as reflected by the average age of farmers in Massachusetts: 58.7. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, beginning farmers (with less than 10 years experience) made up 25 percent of all principal farm operators in Massachusetts. Beginning farmers continue to enter the industry, as we see increases in both the number of farms in the Commonwealth and the acreage we devote to agriculture.

Massachusetts has a rich horticultural history and maintains its agrarian roots. The horticulture industry in Massachusetts offers a wide range of career opportunities for the state’s residents, including those who were formerly incarcerated.