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Want Less Violent Prisons? Plant More Trees

MONDAY, March 1, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- It's already known that green space offers significant benefits in institutional settings, such as hospitals and schools, but new research suggests it may also reduce violence in prisons.

In the new study, researchers compared the amount of trees, lawns and shrubs at prisons in England and Wales with data on violence between prisoners, prisoner assaults on staff and prisoner self-harm.

The investigators also looked at specific features of the prisons, including capacity, security levels and whether buildings were originally built to house inmates or were converted from other uses (such as military bases). They also considered the ages and gender of the inmates.

The study authors found that prisons with more generous green space had lower rates of self-harm, prisoner-on-prisoner violence and assaults on staff.

"Our evidence shows clear and demonstrable benefits from the presence of green space for prisoners in all categories of prison," said lead researcher Dominique Moran. She is a professor in the University of Birmingham's School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, in the United Kingdom.

"It's clear that inclusion of green space should be a key design element for new prisons, and existing prisons should convert existing outdoor areas to provide more green space wherever possible," she added in a university news release.

The findings suggest that more green space at prisons could improve well-being, minimize staff absenteeism, and help control violence-related medical and legal costs, the researchers said.

The study team noted that prisons in England and Wales have high levels of self-harm and violence. In the 12 months leading up to September 2019, over 61,000 incidents of self-harm were reported in those facilities. Over the same time period, there were more than 33,000 incidents of violence between prisoners, and more than 10,000 prisoner assaults on staff.

The findings were recently published online in the journal Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

More information

The National Recreation and Park Association has more on the benefits of green spaces.

SOURCE: University of Birmingham, news release, Feb. 24, 2021

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