The United States incarcerates the greatest percentage of its population compared with any other nation in the world (Schmitt and Warner, 2010). Although the world average rate of incarceration is 166 individuals per 100,000, the U.S. average is 750 per 100,000 (Webb, 2009). The cost of housing a single inmate totals $31,286 annually (Carson, 2015; DeLisi, 2001), and “federal, state, and local governments spent nearly $75 billion on corrections, with the large majority [spent] on incarceration” (Schmitt et al., 2010).
Recidivism is the repetition of criminal behavior and reimprisonment (Maltz, 1984), and is one of the reasons for large inmate populations in the United States. Research tracked a total of 404,638 state prisoners across 30 states from 2005 to 2010 and found 67.8% of prisoners released reoffended within 3 years and 76.6% reoffended within 5 years of being released (Aborn, 2005; Durose et al., 2014). It was also reported that more than 36.8% (one-third) of those who recidivated were arrested within the first 6 months of being released within the 5-year study period (Durose et al., 2014).
Identifying behaviors triggering an offender’s likelihood of repeating criminal behavior can lead to potential adjustments in correcting criminal behavior, thus reducing recidivism (Broadhurst and Maller, 1991). Cohen et al. (1991) found lack of education to be a key characteristic when looking at factors that predict recidivism. Research in a study with 3000 offenders across three states found that a continuing education program reduced recidivism and cut incarceration costs by half (Lewin, 2001). Programs that promote drug rehabilitation and family services also are known to play a part in reducing recidivism (Austin and Hardyman, 2004; Inciardi et al., 1997).
Nonviolent offenders make up more than half of those who are serving time behind bars (Schmitt and Warner, 2010). With inflated prison populations, there is a growing interest in alternative means of working with those who commit crimes, especially those who are nonviolent (Mears et al., 2012). The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported 1 in every 53 adults in the United States were under some form of community service supervision (Kaeble and Bonczar, 2017). Community service is a mandate ordered by the courts to be served outside of jail or prison (Kaeble and Bonczar, 2017), and is generally issued as part of a probation sentence and as a substitution for incarceration (Kaeble and Bonczar, 2017).
As a means of education and vocational rehabilitation, horticulture programs were historically integrated into detention facilities across the United States (Rice and Remy, 1994). Many prisoners have participated in horticultural activities such as harvesting and maintaining their own vegetable gardens as a means of providing food for the institution and which can also later be a means of earning income (Lewis, 1996). Even though the work necessary to maintain the garden projects was mandatory and required by the prisons, Pudup (2007) points out the significance of such well-structured horticultural activities, and the huge role they play in influencing a self-regulating and organized lifestyle for the inmates.
A community-based horticultural program called The Green Brigade was designed specifically for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders (Cammack et al., 2002). Those participating in the program learned vocational skills while also improving their self-esteem, locus of control, interpersonal relationships, and attitudes (Cammack et al., 2002). Another program integrated the Master Gardener curriculum into a prison for adults (Polomski et al., 1997). The Master Gardener program found “offering green-industry job skills, [coupled with] successfully completing the program, offered inmates a sense of academic accomplishment and sparked their interest in horticulture” (Polomski et al., 1997).
Researchers Mohammad and Mohamed (2015) found individuals who engaged in vocational and/or educational programming had lower rates of recidivism compared with those who did not engage or enroll in programming. Participation in vocational and/or educational programs provided inmates the opportunity for learning how to read, write, and develop the skills necessary for a healthy and successful transition back into their communities and society (Mohammad and Mohamed, 2015). The likelihood of a young offender successfully transitioning into a productive member of society on release can be significantly jeopardized if he or she has never experienced any previous form of guidance, vocational development, or taken some form of a reading and writing course (Ameen and Lee, 2012). Therefore, finding a meaningful place within the workforce and community does, in fact, have an effect on an individual’s decision to participate in criminal activity (Petersilia, 2003).
Organized horticultural activities teach new skills that potentially can be applied outside of prison and in reintegrating back into society (Lindemuth, 2011; Migura et al., 1997). These skills may aid in decreasing the likelihood of reoffending while educating offenders on multiple outlooks and various approaches for analyzing their own personal perceptions of their quality of life (Migura et al., 1997). The purpose of this study was to determine the availability of opportunities for horticultural community service and whether there were differences in incidences of recurrences of offenses/recidivism of offenders completing community service in horticultural vs. nonhorticultural settings.
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