Landscape Project Helps Students and Offenders

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MITCHELLVILLE, Iowa –Summer break typically means a few months of relaxation, vacation and a part-time job, but it was a season of hard work in an unlikely place for one group of Iowa State University students.

Eight students worked with Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Julie Stevens on a project to build a therapeutic outdoor space for workers at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.

ISU Senior Jacob Brouillette says, "We came out the first day, and it was just grass with spray paint lines on the ground."

The students worked together to design the space in two weeks and then spent the summer planting trees and place bricks. Last year, the class created a therapeutic outdoor classroom for the female offenders and thought staff could benefit from an area of their own.

Stevens says, "We noticed the correctional officers during their shift change would often stand in the parking lot and kind of chit chat before they would go home for the day, just a way to decompress."

The project includes a decompression area, which offers space for outdoor meetings. A kitchen area will eventually be installed for group grill-outs or individual breaks. Stevens says, “Just being in the outdoors is therapeutic, so attention restoration theory tells us that even a few moments in the outdoor environment is restorative."

The students worked 10 hour days four days a week starting in May. Female offenders from the facility helped the students throughout the summer. Graduate Student Tara Bounds says, "It's job experience for everyone, whether you're a student or offender who will soon be going out into the world, trying to find a job again."

ISU’s Department of Landscape Architecture started working with the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women three years ago. The group was asked to provide landscaping ideas for the state's $68 million construction project of the new facility. Grants and donations have paid for the landscaping projects by the students. Next year, the students will work on a production greenhouse.

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