Restoration Not Incarceration

Restoration Not Incarceration™ is a three-tiered Ecological Health initiative targeting the restoration of Greater Houston’s prairies, bayous, wetlands and Gulf Coast shore in conjunction with recovery, rehabilitation and recidivism reduction of young adults and juveniles. This initiative is being designed for replication in other locations.

Restoration Not Incarceration Pilot
Design and First Stage Implementation, COMPLETED
Esteban Park, Houston, Texas

GOAL: Complete Phase II of  initial Restoration Not Incarceration (Last Stage Design/ First Stage Implementation). Prepare for and raise the funds for expansion of the program.


Summary: Restoration Not Incarceration is a new initiative begun in 2010 that pairs serious restoration ecology with licensed social work. GPRC is building into the program a clinical psychosocial work component, and working to advance the new medical field of applying work in wild nature as a therapeutic modality for mental and physical health. This includes eco-psychology and eco-psychotherapy, and also direct physiological improvement as noted in advances to address nature-deficit disorder. As the marquee effort of GPRC’s growing Ecological Health movement, Restoration Not Incarceration is stabilizing damaged lives through helping to save the critically endangered native coastal prairie ecosystem from extinction, which once thrived for hundreds of miles and millions of acres along the Gulf of Mexico from western Louisiana down across the entire coast of Texas to Mexico.

Less than 1% of America’s native coastal prairie ecosystem remains. At the same time, there is tremendous jail overcrowding by low-level offenders. In Restoration Not Incarceration, prairies and people restore each other.

Evidence-based Recidivism Reduction
Compiled by Great Plains Restoration Council (GPRC)

Restoration Not Incarceration is social entrepreneurial work, designed to holistically integrate proven effective treatment approaches for prisoners with the new field of work therapy in nature, and advance the effectiveness of simultaneous objectives toward reducing recidivism and ecological degradation. GPRC advances existing models by combining 1.) trust-and-motivation based social work with 2.) skills training in nature with 3.) ecological recovery and protection, and personalizing the meaningful nature of all three.

  1. A Harris County, TX (Houston) Corrections pilot project, “The Conservation Work Probation Program (Conservation Camp) performing wetlands and prairie restoration out at Sheldon Lake had an Effectiveness Rating of “77.2% graduates with no new arrest after up to 24 months.” (Harris County Attorney’s Office).
  2. Dr. Nalini Nadkami runs a Washington State program known as the Sustainable Prisons Project: “The Sustainable Prisons Project is a partnership of the Washington State Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. Our mission is to reduce the cost and environmental impact of prison operations by training prison staff and offenders in science, sustainability and skills for the emerging green economy.”(http://acdrupal.evergreen.edu/greenprisons/) “We’re saving money, saving resources, and saving lives,” said Dr. Nadkami.  State prisons ‘go green’ to save more than planet
    http://www.king5.com/localnews/environment/stories/NW_061709WAB-green-prison-KS.8e8905db.html?rss
    Successful Re-Entry: “Green Prison Reform” http://www.kcts9.org/video/green-prison-reform discusses the Washington State program as well, and highlights a successful re-entry (into society) case.
    Prairie Restoration and Prisoners, Washington State: Now, The Nature Conservancy, through a Department of Defense Legacy Resource grant, is now partnering with Sustainable Prisons to work with prisoners at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center, “to grow threatened prairie flowering perennials”.
  3. Recidivism Study 1: “ST [Skills Training] proved more cost effective than MEN [Mentoring], achieving a 14% relative reduction in recidivism at a savings of $33,600 per hundred youths. In ST, 37% were rearrested 2 years or more after intake, compared to 51% in MEN and 46% in JD [Juvenile Diversion]. In two of five propensity subclasses, time to first rearrest was longer in ST (M = 767 days) than in MEN (M = 638 days) or JD (M = 619 days).” (Elaine A. Blechman1, Araya Maurice1, Betsy Buecker1 and Clay Helberg, Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at, Boulder “Can Mentoring or Skill Training Reduce Recidivism? Observational Study with Propensity Analysis”, Prevention Science, Sept. 2000.)
  4. Recidivism Study 2: “Most important, unlike 30 years ago, there is today an enormous body of sophisticated research proving that unlike incarceration, which actually increases offender recidivism, properly designed and operated recidivism-reduction programs can significantly reduce offender recidivism. Such programs are more effective, and more cost-effective, than incarceration in reducing crime rates.” “Roger K. Warren, Primary Author, “Evidence-Based Practice to Reduce Recidivism: Implications for State Judiciaries”; prepared for the Crime and Justice Institute, National Institute of Corrections, and National Center for State Courts, 30 August 2007.)
  5. Physical Health from Nature: “…[A]ccess to [the natural environment] can modify pathways through which low socioeconomic position can lead to disease. … Health inequalities related to income deprivation in all-cause mortality and mortality from circulatory diseases were lower in populations living in the greenest areas.” (Mitchell, PhD, Popham, PhD., “Effect of Exposure to Natural Environment on Health Inequalities: an Observational Population Study”, The Lancet, 8 November 2008).
  6. Mental Health from Nature: University of Michigan psychologist Michael Berman and colleagues completed a study that found “Interacting with nature shifts the mind to a more relaxed and passive mode, allowing the more analytical powers to restore themselves … the kind of attention we need to study for exams, make financial decisions, and so forth—the business of daily life”, and that this ability to focus and concentrate is depleted in the constant noise and overstimulation of modern urban life. (“In Our Nature”, Newsweek, February 2009.)

In the United States, an average of ‎$88,000 is spent per year incarcerating a juvenile; $9,000 is spent per year educating a student.

Environmental Social Work: Esteban Park and Restoration Not Incarceration™ were the subject of a full chapter in the book Environmental Social Work, Routledge Press 2013, London. (Great Plains Restoration Council’s Restoration Not Incarceration™ pilot program offered Ecological Health training to homeless, formerly incarcerated young felons.)