A new report published by the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony Project in December recommends that prisons in the UK should provide more opportunities for inmates to connect with the natural world and growing gardens to support their rehabilitation. “An Action Plan for Greener Prisons” draws on research which indicates indicates that gardening while serving a prison sentence can facilitate skills development, build self-confidence and provides meaningful activity that develops a deeper sense of responsibility.

The report opens by first sketching out the status of re-offending in the UK prison system. Recidivism has not been dropping in recent years, with 48% of ex-offenders re-offending within a year of release. Re-offending alone costs the government £18 billion a year. Alongside this broad view, a definition for prison farms is given, deemed as being an area of managed land in excess of 60 acres. From 2002 to 2005, farming decreased in importance within the prisons system with a former 23-prison farm network being whittled down to the current five. The remaining farms are at North Sea Camp, Prescoed, Hewell, East Sutton Park and Kirkham. Part of the decline is explained by the decreasing relevance of agriculture as a vocational skill, as well as the limited space available in urban prisons.

The report aims to reverse this trend and increase access to nature and growing gardens for inmates in the UK. A series of recommendations is provided for Category C and Category prisons, those deemed low-risk. Area to work on range from content via education in horticulture, animal husbandry, beekeeping and cookery. As for hard facilities, biophilic interiors and indoor plants are recommended as well as access to growing gardens.

Three case studies are referenced, alongside a more thorough analysis of HMP Bristol.

  1. Halden Fengsel Prison, Norway: the country’s second largest prison opened in 2010 as a maximum-security prison with a focus on rehabilitation via outdoors. Materials were inspired by the trees, mosses and bedrock found in the surrounding nature and were combined with a variety of plants and trees. These appear seem to be working - re-offending rate across Norway’s prison system is 20% after two years of release.
  2. Food growing at HMP & Young Offenders Institution Parc: this Welsh prison offers training to its 1,700 inmates and has allotments within the prison. A former disused area of the prison is now home to a Japanese-style garden, beehive and pond. Those who work in the prison’s garden are paid £28 per week for 40 hours work alongside studying for a qualification in horticulture. Read more in The Guardian
  3. Kirkham Prison Farm, Lancashire: the Category D facility helps a crew of 106 prisons to manage the 120 acres of farmed land, including three glasshouses and a herd of English Longhorn cattle. The prison works closely with the land-based college Myerscough, which sends experts into the prison to enhance skills and administer land-based qualifications.

Research published in International Journal of Prisoner Health (March 2019)