Planting Justice

Insight Garden Program’s Prison Work Pivots–and Keeps Transforming Lives


On Thursday, March 18, Insight Garden Project  will deliver the opening presentation at Yale School of the Environment’s Social and Ecological Infrastructure for Recidivism Reduction Virtual Conference.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found creative ways to meet the needs of people in prison and out. IGP shifted to a correspondence-based curriculum, expanded our wrap-around reentry support, increased formerly incarcerated leadership in the organization, and deepened our legislative advocacy.

In this conference, we also share what we envision for the future, including the introduction of Citizen Science into our curriculum, college credit or certification earning component to our program, and the idea of an IGP farm.

The three-day online event is free and open to the public.

participants in IGP prison garden program seated around table

Since 2002, Insight Garden Program has worked with incarcerated people in the California prison system, bringing gardens inside the prison walls, and in 2012, their Transform Your Yard project received a grant from the WaterWheel Foundation via Rex, in partnership with grantee Planting Justice.


With a mission of transforming prisoners’ lives through connection to nature, IGP offers an innovative curriculum combined with vocational gardening and landscaping training so that people in prison can reconnect to self, community, and the natural world. This “inner” and “outer” gardening approach transforms lives, ends ongoing cycles of incarceration, and creates safer communities. IGP is one of the only evidence-based rehabilitation programs in California. A 2011 recidivism study of 117 IGP participants paroled between 2003-2009 found that fewer than 10% returned to prison or jail.

One program graduate, Bilal Coleman, commented:

“What inspired me about Insight Garden Program was it was a safe place where I learned to meditate and discover my reconnection to nature and the gardens. This has allowed me to successfully transition to a stable job and be present with my family and community in a way that I never have before. I have a different way of being in the world and the space that I hold in it.”

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on California’s prison population, with nearly half contracting the virus and at least 175 fatalities. It’s also brought in-prison programs to a halt.  IGP reports, “All incarcerated people across the state have been living under strict lockdown protocols – no programming, no visitors, and many placed in solitary confinement as a social distancing strategy. Scores of IGP participants have repeatedly expressed fear, depression, anxiety, and trauma associated with both the pandemic and the effects of months in isolation.”

Pivoting rapidly, IGP created an alternative curriculum for its 48-week course using virtual programming, which is now being delivered to 400 participants,  as well as  an 8-week online program at OH Close Youth facility in Stockton, CA.  In addition, it stepped up re-entry support for participants as they returned home to their families and communities.