Detention and Correctional Facilities

We provide people held in jails, prisons, and detention centers with therapeutic programs that use plants and gardens to support mental healing, physical wellness, and job training.

Why We Care

53% of people incarcerated at NYC’s Rikers Island Correctional Facility are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, often co-occurring with substance use disorder. Many have experienced trauma, systemic poverty and violence. Our rehabilitative programs help people manage the ordeal of incarceration, stabilize their emotions, and make progress toward life-changes that improve the likelihood of a successful reentry into society.

How We Work

For more than 30 years, the Hort has collaborated with the Department of Correction to provide supportive and therapeutic horticulture programs to people currently incarcerated or detained at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Through our comprehensive year round therapeutic horticulture curriculum, our programs empower participants to productively use their time at Rikers, support personal growth and wellbeing, and to return to their community better prepared to integrate positively into society.

Our program participants engage four days a week in our 2 ½ acre restorative garden, in one of our smaller gardens or in their housing area.  Activities include: 

  • Maintaining 98 raised beds for food plants, diverse gardens with perennials, annuals, cut flower sections, water features, woodlands, herb gardens, and rose beds.  
  • Creating plant-based products for self-care.  
  • Learning about plants, landscaping basics and natural science in structured classroom settings.   
  • Growing edible plants from seed, maintaining, harvesting, preserving and cooking with vegetables, fruits and herbs.  

Our gardens provide safe, nurturing and beautiful spaces where participants, together with our therapeutic horticulture instructors, form a welcoming and inclusive community that supports personal growth through participant-driven goals. Our participants further learn a wide variety of horticultural vocational skills, such as seed starting, soil amendment, planting techniques and propagation, harvesting and food preparation. Many participants continue working with plants and sharing their knowledge in many different ways, be it by including new plant-based elements into their nutrition, becoming members of community gardens, sharing their excitement with family and friends, making horticulture a profession, or also as continued opportunity to learn and grow while serving time in prison.  

“In the garden, I feel free.”

Program graduates describe the impact of our programs very clearly:   

  • In the garden, I feel free. For a moment, I’m not in jail, and I feel the earth, sun, rain, and my own self.  
  • When I lay in bed at night, I’m thinking of the garden – where should I plant this red hibiscus? Should I have put the grass somewhere else? Why on earth am I thinking of the garden at night? It just means so much to me!  
  • I’ve never got a certificate in my life! I didn’t finish High School, and then I went to the streets, and there was no opportunity. I’m going to send this certificate to my family, so they can put it on the wall and be proud of me. It says Apprentice Gardener level 1! That’s something special! I’m a gardener.  
  • I would ask for a transfer out of this building if it wasn’t for the garden and horticulture. This is what keeps me sane here. I really want to see these roses flourish, and the watermelon is finally growing. Every day I think about my plants, and what changes I’ll see when I get outside the next time! It really gives me something to look forward to, and we need that.  

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