Can prison gardens help address the problem with mass incarceration?

Inmates carry boxes of produce at Correctional Institute

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Can prison gardens help address the problem with mass incarceration?

While there is no centralized system that tracks all crime data, FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics data suggest that reported crime rates, on the whole, are falling.

Yet with nearly 2 million people in confinement, the United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world: both in terms of the total number and relative to the country’s overall population. This includes more than 1.3 million people currently serving out sentences in federal and state prisons and local jails, and close to half a million awaiting convictions.

This begs the question: Is the country plagued by crime, or suffering under an uncalibrated criminal justice system?

Stacker consulted academic research, program outcomes, and government data to look at what the U.S. prison population looks like today, and how horticulture therapy is being used to improve the quality of life for inmates currently incarcerated and after their release.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the “tough on crime” era in the U.S. ushered in a 400% increase in the federal and state prison population over the next two decades. Policy changes such as minimum sentencing requirements, the Three Strikes law, Truth in Sentencing laws, and the concurrent War on Drugs campaign meant more people were sent to prison—and often with longer sentences. The number of people incarcerated for drug offenses alone increased nearly tenfold, according to Bureau of Justice data, from roughly 41,000 in 1980 to 430,926 in 2019.

The idea that increased incarceration rates and longer sentences directly lead to lower crime rates—the core tenet of the “tough on crime” ideology—is widely debated. Some research suggests that over the last 20 years, nearly 0% of the reduction in crime can be attributed to the increased use of incarceration. Data also suggests that in certain communities, increased incarceration can lead to an increase in crime by perpetuating cycles of broken families, police mistrust, and economic disadvantage.

America’s prisons and jails are woefully, and intentionally, bad at preparing inmates to rejoin society because the criminal justice system operates, in large part, on punishment, not reform. As result, two out of every three people who serve time in prison are rearrested within three years of their release. Former inmates are also more than 100 times more likely to die of an overdose, and more likely than the general population to commit suicide.

Recidivism comes with a high price. According to a study conducted by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, which looked at recidivism costs in that state, a single instance of reincarceration can cost taxpayers more than $50,000.

Over the course of five years, recidivism could cost Illinois over $13 billion, a fraction of what it costs the nation as a whole. The U.S. spends near $81 billion annually on mass incarceration, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most states spend more money to keep someone incarcerated than to educate a child.

Programs like prison gardens, which are part of a horticulture therapy movement and a relatively recent push for rehabilitation within the prison system, are helping inmates better prepare for life outside of incarceration by improving mental health, fostering socialization and problem-solving skills, and providing training that could eventually lead to employment. For those who may never rejoin society, prison gardens grow purpose—something beautiful amid something bleak.

Prison gardens are not the solution to mass incarceration or high recidivism rates. They are more akin to a bandaid on a deep wound. But they can teach us the value of providing rehabilitative services if the end goal is to reduce mass incarceration and break the socioeconomic cycles associated with it.

You may also like: Marijuana violations have taken over 10,000 truck drivers off the road this year, adding more supply chain disruptionsPeople work in garden at correctional institute

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images


The first official prison garden program in the U.S. began at Rikers Island in 1997. Launched by the Horticulture Society of New York, the GreenHouse, as it is referred to, is the country’s oldest and largest prison garden. Six years later, the Insight Garden Program was launched at Solano and San Quentin State Prisons in California. Today, more than 15 state prison systems offer landscaping, gardening, and horticulture training programs.

It is important to note the difference between rehabilitative agricultural training and forced prison labor, which has become more common in the food industry in recent years. With fewer immigrants available for farm labor, many growers have turned to prison labor, or convict leasing, which is cheap and abundant. Inmates are excluded from federal minimum wage laws, and in some states make as little as $3 per hour before deductions. Prison gardens, even those that feed surrounding communities, are structured for the benefit of inmates.Inmates harvest and box up cabbage in garden

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Mental health in US prisons

The U.S. incarcerates a disproportionate amount of people who have mental health challenges and most prisons and jails are not designed to treat them. More than 40% of people in state prisons have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, and the majority of them never receive any mental health care.

Compared to the overall U.S. population, more incarcerated people suffer from bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, and the rates of mental illness among incarcerated women are nearly double that of incarcerated men.Peppers being picked at Berks County Jail

Jeremy Drey/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Benefits for the community

In addition to providing fresh food for the prison facilities themselves, many prison gardens donate portions of their harvests to the surrounding communities. In Missouri, for example, Restorative Justice Gardens across the state generate roughly 100 tons of fresh produce to donate to food banks, shelters, schools, and senior centers.

According to the WA Food Fund, the number of people in Washington who were at risk of not having enough to eat during the pandemic reached 1.6 million. The Washington State Corrections’ Hope Gardens donated nearly 74,000 pounds of produce to at-risk communities to help mitigate the risk of food shortages. Inmates across the country are giving back to their surrounding communities—to people perhaps a lot like them, who need help, and whose lives could be positively impacted by receiving it.An inmate consults garden books at Boulder County Jail’s organic garden

David Jennings/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

Benefits for the inmates

Research shows horticulture therapy increases self-efficacy, self-worth, and life satisfaction for inmates. It also decreases anxiety and depression symptoms and reduces recidivism rates for participants when compared to the rest of the incarcerated population. Less than 10% of the 117 California-based Insight Garden Program participants who were paroled between 2003-2009 were reincarcerated. California’s average recidivism rate over the same period was 64%.

Some programs, like Roots to Re-Entry, also incorporate vocational training into their therapy work so inmates leave with hands-on skills to improve their chances of landing a green job upon their release. Participants build connections with program instructors who can serve as references uniquely positioned to speak to their character and growth.Inmates tend to garden in Berks County Jail

Jeremy Drey/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Concerns, shortcomings, discussion

As mentioned before, many prison garden programs boast lower recidivism rates among participants than the general prison population—a positive result no matter how you look at that fact on its own.

However, participant selection, which is often left to the correctional facilities, may unfairly overlook some inmates, such as those with a history of serious or violent crimes—despite the fact that such inmates make up the overwhelming majority of the prison population. According to a U.S. Department of Justice study tracking recidivism rates between 2005-2014, such prisoners are less likely to be rearrested for committing crimes after release than prisoners released for property offenses. Unfortunately, the majority of states have criminal justice reforms that exclude people convicted of violent offenses.

Program participation does not guarantee a prosperous life upon reentry to society. People who were incarcerated will forever be labeled as criminals and not all employers are willing to take the risk of hiring someone with that history. Research shows that having a criminal record reduces employer callback rates by 50%. Inmates are not reentering a society free from the socioeconomic inequities that may have contributed to their incarceration in the first place.

While their experience with horticulture therapy can inform how they approach adversity, it does not get at the root of the systemic inequality leading to and exacerbated by mass incarceration.

Written by: Lauren Liebhaber. The article was produced by Stacker, and syndicated by

World’s Oldest Sealed Terrarium by David Latimer

In 1960, David Latimer decided to grow a sealed glass bottle terrarium. He never imagined that it would grow into an incredible research study and be dubbed “the world’s oldest terrarium.” 

Over the years, David’s bottle garden was sealed shut but remains healthy and robust as it can be. It has flourishing plant life even though it has not that has not been watered since 1972.

David established the terrarium by placing a quarter pint of compost and water inside the ten-gallon bottle (custom hand-blown glass makers usually make these). He then added spiderworts seeds with the help of a wire. After that, he sealed the bottle and put it in a corner filled with sunlight. Then, let nature do its job through photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis releases oxygen and moisture into the air via plants. The water will then build up and drip onto the plants. The leaves will also fall and rot, releasing carbon dioxide, which the plants require for their food. 

It is creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. It’s astunning illustration of how nature can preserve itself.

Latimer opened the terrarium in 1972 to supply the plants with water. However, it has been sealed with no air or freshwater ever since.

“It’s six feet from a window, so it is exposed to sunlight. As a result, it’s a little more oriented towards the sun and is rotated around now and then to develop uniformly. It’s also the standard for low-maintenance. I’ve never trimmed it. It just appears to have grown to the boundaries in the bottle.”David Latimer

David’s creation has been featured in the Daily Mail.

The garden has been set in the same room for the past 27 years at the home of the Latimer family (at the time of the interview, it was moved around before that). 

It is situated within Cranleigh, Surrey. The town was first made available via BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time on BBC by Chris Beardshaw. Chris is a TV host and garden designer. 

The designer said that David’s sealed garden was the perfect cycle of nature and an excellent illustration of the ability of plants to recycle. And he added that it’s similar to the method NASA is looking into bringing plants and seeds into space. 

Saying: “Plants serve as excellent cleaners, eliminating pollution from the air, to ensure that a space station can be self-sustaining.’. 

This is an excellent example of how revolutionary plants are and how they can survive if given a chance.

History of Terrariums

If you’re new to terrariums, let’s start with some background. The name terrarium comes from the Latin words terra(earth), and arium (place). So it’s similar to aquariums but only with earth and plants.

There are two main categories of terrariums:

  • Closed: The most classic (and interesting) kind and the one David chose to create. The sealing off of the terrarium and making it an enclosed system is what makes it an ecosystem. It captures humidity in terrariums and allows for the growth of fascinating tropical plants.
  • Open: This type may lose some of a traditional terrarium’s essential characteristics and features. They’re ideal for plants that don’t need a lot of water.

The first terrarium was created on accident by Nathan Bagshaw Ward

Ward first became aware of the benefits of hermetically-sealed glass bottles in 1829. He had put a chrysalis from a moth called a sphinx in moist soil on the bottom of the bottle and covered the bottle with a lid. Then, he noticed that a grass and fern seedling had sprouted from dirt the following week. 

Incredibly, the evaporated water condensed on the bottles’ walls in the daytime, then returned to the soil at night and maintained constant humidity.

He then adapted this idea for transporting plants across long voyages. The sealed Wardian Case kept the plants moist and alive so they could travel to foreign countries (PDF).

Nowadays, terrariums are used more for decoration and enjoyment rather than travel. Although it still is a great way to transport plants if you’re moving long distances.

Growing a Sealed Bottle Terrarium

As we have said earlier, the sealed terrarium functions by creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. Through photosynthesis, the plants recycle nutrients. 

Light is the sole input that is required externally. This is the source of energy needed for food and growth. The light beams off the leaves and is taken into the plant by proteins that contain chlorophylls (green-colored pigment). 

Plants store a small amount of light with ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to provide energy. The plant’s roots utilize the rest to remove electrons in water.

The electrons are then free to release oxygen through the conversion of carbon dioxide into carbohydrates by chemical reactions.

To compost organic matter like dead leaves in the ecosystem, it uses the process of cellular respiration. This is performed by bacteria that absorb excess oxygen, release carbon dioxide, and help the plant grow.

The plants also use the same process of cellular respiration to break down the substances it has stored up in the absence of light (during nighttime).

Water is cycled throughout, trapped in the plant’s roots, escaping into the air, and condensed in the potting mix. 

The cycle begins anew and continues to repeat itself.

Conclusion to David’s Sealed Bottle Garden

A lot of people are skeptical that David Latimer’s story is factual, and some, such as Bob Flowerdew (organic gardener), think, “It’s wonderful but not for me, thanks. I can’t see the point. I can’t smell it, I can’t eat it.”.

It’s shocking to learn that David feels the same. He says that the bottle garden is pretty dull. It’s not doing anything; however, it is fascinating to him to determine how long it will last.

He plans to pass on the “world’s oldest terrarium” to his children once they are older. Even if they do not have an interest in the meanwhile, if they do not want it, the terrarium will go to the Royal Horticultural Society in London, England.

While this experiment is not explicitly focused on home improvement, it does highlight how a simple project can be brought into the home and connect us with nature.

Also, it would be an excellent conversion piece when the company comes over. Think of the reactions one would get when you say you haven’t watered the terrarium in 50 years!


Desmond, Ray. 1986. Technical Problems in Transporting Living Plants in the Age of Sail. Canadian Horticultural History 1: 74–90.

Loudon, John C. 1834. Growing Ferns and Other Plants in Glass Cases. Gardener’s Magazine. pp. 207–208.

This article was produced by Nature of Home, and syndicated by

5 Must-Have Cauliflower Companion Plants For Best Harvest

girl showing cauliflower plant.

Today, cauliflower is becoming more trendy, and it’s common to see it used in pizza crust, rice, bread, and crackers. It’s an excellent cool-season vegetable crop that’s adaptable to both partial shade and full sun. Cauliflower also comes in colors other than white and can be used for adding color to your garden and plate.

We’ll cover the best cauliflower companion plants, explain how they attract beneficial insects, and work together.

5 Best Companion Plants for Cauliflower

  1. Beets
  2. Lettuce
  3. Fennel
  4. Nasturtiums
  5. Cosmos

An explanation of why these plants grow well with cauliflower is below.

Beets & Lettuce

Cauliflower grows slowly and takes up a lot of garden space; most growth is more than 6 to 8 inches off the ground. You can underplant fast-growing crops like radishes, beets, and leaf lettuce in that space. 

In the spring, companion planting cauliflower can help control the two main pests that affect all brassicas: aphids and cabbage worms. 


Hoverfly larvae are beneficial insects and will eat aphids when planted with cosmos and are used as a good companion for cauliflower. 


To assist cosmos, plant nasturtiums as a trap crop near cauliflower; aphids will be attracted to the nasturtiums even more than your cauliflower. 


In addition, planting fennel around your cauliflower will draw parasitic wasps, which will lay their eggs under the caterpillars’ skin and then plant their larvae on the worms from the inside out. 

3 Bad Companion Plants For Cauliflower

Avoid planting these three bad cauliflower companion plants:

1.) Tomatoes

Cauliflower will face competition with tomatoes because they’re both heavy feeders for vital nutrients in the soil. Being that they compete, cauliflower could stunt the growth of tomatoes. 

2.) Strawberries 

This is a bad companion plant for cauliflower because strawberries compete for nutrients like tomatoes and cauliflower. 

3.) Brassicas

 Brassicas, such as broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, should not be planted next to cauliflower. Both brassica and cauliflower belong to the same family. So, together they would attract more pests and diseases to your vegetable garden, and compete with one another. 

Now that you know the best and worst cauliflower companion plants, here are some growing and harvesting tips.

Getting Started & Planting Cauliflower

planting cauliflower in the garden.

Cauliflower can be planted in the late summer or early fall and allowed to grow throughout the winter if your winters only experience light frosts. However, you should plant your cauliflower in the spring if you have freezing temperatures and winter snow. 

It’s generally best to start indoors from seed or transplants, regardless of the weather. However, since cauliflower will only plant in soil that is less than 70°F (21°C) in temperature, growing it from seed in the late summer or early fall is probably too hot. 

Since cauliflower and broccoli can occupy a garden for four to five months, they can eat up space for your warm-season crops, so you’ll want to start planning your spring sowing early. 

You can start cauliflower seeds indoors six weeks before your last frost date. As soon as your seedlings or transplants are prepared to be placed in the garden (can be planted two weeks before your last frost date), ensure they receive at least four to five hours of direct sun, but the more, the better. 

In rich, well-draining soil, space them 15 to 18 inches apart and keep them moist. 

Growing Cauliflower & Harvesting

growing cauliflower plant

Although cauliflower leaves can be eaten, most people grow them for the substantial central stalk and head. 

The plant’s top center is where the head develops; although it starts small, it will eventually get much more prominent. It would be best to cover the cauliflower heads once the leaves begin to part and the sun shines directly on them because direct sunlight can cause them to turn discolored. 

To do this, gather some leaves close to the head and rubber band or clothespin them together. This will protect the head from the sun. 

A cauliflower head is ready to harvest when it is still tight and 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in diameter. Then, when the stalk begins to branch into the various segments, take a knife or pair of clippers and cut it off. 

Cauliflower plants stop producing once the central head has been harvested, unlike broccoli plants, which continue to produce a secondary crop of side florets. 

This article was produced by Nature of Home, and syndicated by