A new report published by the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony Project recommends that prisons in the UK should provide more opportunities for inmates to connect with the natural world with the goal of improving the wellbeing of staff and prisoners and supporting rehabilitation.

An Action Plan for Greener Prisons’ draws on research which indicates that access to the natural world, such as having the opportunity to grow food and work with animals, can improve mental wellbeing and reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Studies also suggest that active hands-on engagement with nature is effective in supporting marginalised people to reintegrate into society. This is a result of facilitating skills development, which builds self-confidence, provides meaningful activity and develops a deeper sense of responsibility. Within a prison context, horticultural programmes in particular have been proven to offer multiple benefits to prisoners.

In light of our research, our ongoing discussions with staff at HMP Bristol and with the goal of improving staff and prisoner wellbeing, the SFT recommends that prisons across the UK look to:

  • Increase opportunities for horticultural education and cookery classes
  • Introduce animal husbandry and beekeeping courses
  • Create a more harmonious interior colour therapy
  • Optimise natural light and the presence of indoor plants
  • Make use of video and photographic content depicting the natural world
  • Introduce quieter, greener outdoor spaces
  • Increase the planting of pollinator-friendly, native plants across the prison
  • Make use of food grown on-site for catering

Despite 97% of prisoners expressing a desire to stop offending, rates of reoffending in the UK have not fallen in recent years. Up to 48% of those who spend time in prison will go on to reoffend within a year. The Government estimates that reoffending costs taxpayers £18 billion a year.

The Government has now recognised the urgent need for innovative solutions by allowing prison governors greater flexibility and control. International studies have shown that connection with nature can improve mental wellbeing, which fosters prisoner rehabilitation into society upon release and can help reduce rates of reoffending. This presents an opportunity to adopt policies that create ‘greener prisons’ and could see increased support for growing spaces, nature-inspired design, and improved educational training to help tackle the growing problems associated with mental health, nutritional health and substance dependency, while delivering improvements to prisoner post-sentence employment opportunities.

In support of the report, Rory Stewart, Former Minister of State for Prisons and Probation says:

“Providing decent, safe, and positive environments for prisoners through engagement with the natural world is not only a moral obligation, it also ultimately keeps the public safe through addressing many of the issues that lead to reoffending.

It has long been clear that connections to nature, to the outdoors, to gardening and food production are deeply important for my mental and physical health. Recent scientific research amply confirms this.

If we do not work to rehabilitate prisoners through such programmes and many other programmes in education and psychology – it will harm not just the prisoners themselves but the public too – because prisoners, who have been poorly treated, will be much more likely to reoffend on release.

We should be hugely grateful to the Sustainable Food Trust for bringing together such an important and valuable contribution to prisons and broader society.”

To read the full report, click here.

For the full press release with notes, click here.

For more information contact:

Bonnie Welch, Project Manager and Author

07745938640

bonnie@sustainablefoodtrust.org

If you would like to support our greening prisons work aimed at providing opportunities for inmates to connect with the natural world and improve their mental health and wellbeing, please contact helen@sustainablefoodtrust.org. We would be most grateful for your help.

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