In the context of current prison safety and reform, the purpose of this paper is to discuss findings of an impact evaluation of a horticultural programme delivered in 12 prisons in North West England.
The programme was evaluated using quantitative and qualitative methods, including Green Gym© questionnaires, the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) and Biographic-Narrative Interpretive Method interviews.
Against a backdrop of high rates of suicide, self-harm and poor mental health, the horticultural programme studied proved beneficial to prisoner participants, the most marked effect was on mental health and wellbeing. In addition to data related to the original mental health outcome indicators, the study revealed multiple layers of “added value” related to mental health arising from horticultural work in a prison setting.
The main research limitations were the limited completion of follow-on questionnaires due to prisoners being released and the inability to conduct longitudinal data collection post-release. There was also concern about response bias and lack of resource to compare with the experience of prisoners not participating in the programme.
Positive impacts on prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing included increased confidence, social interactions with staff and other prisoners and gaining skills and qualifications and work experience, increasing potential for post-release employment.
Benefits of horticulture work on health are well established. However, to date, there is little research concerning the effects this work may have on mental wellbeing of prisoners both within prisons and more so upon their release back into the community.