Plants possess monumental powers. While there’s plenty of science to back it up, the healing properties, mood-enhancing effects, and health benefits of nature feel almost supernatural. 
THow Trees and Green Space Might Help Reduce Self-harm In Prisons: 
Plants possess monumental powers. While there’s plenty of science to back it up, the healing properties, mood-enhancing effects, and health benefits of nature feel almost supernatural. 
What about even in the darkest corners of society? 
Creating space for nature and greenery within prisons has been shown to reduce self-harm and inmate violence, a new study has shown. 
But how is this so? How can trees have such a monumental effect on the behavior of prisoners? 
Don’t dismiss the power of plants just yet. Let’s discuss the science and evidence behind why this works. 
The Research On Greenery In Jails: 
According to a study conducted among jails in both England and Wales, the larger green space a prison had, the smaller the rates of violence and self-harm. 
Using aerial photos, researchers from the University of Birmingham, and Utrecht University in the Netherlands analyzed how much space was devoted to plants and other forms of greenery, compared to their overall rates of inmate violence, self-harm, and prisoner on guard assaults. 
No matter the size or location of the prisons, the positive effects on greenery remained true. Increasing green space in prisons even by 10% lowers the rates of violence by up to 6.6%. 
With inmate violence, self-injury, and prisoner on staff attacks posing dangerous and prevalent threats, the answer being as simple as some trees keeps people skeptical. However, there are many reasons why this in fact makes sense. 
How Plants Reduce Levels Of Self Harm: 
Research has proven repeatedly that interaction with plants provides us with many mental and physical health benefits. From boosting learning to reviving memories, and lowering the risk of mental disorders, plants are here to make our lives better. 
So, how can plants reduce the rates of self-harm in jails? 
Plants Have a Calming Effect: 
In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers set out to understand just why plants have such a calming effect. 
They found interaction with plants actually reduces psychological distress by calming the autonomic nervous system - the area of our bodies in charge of breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and more. 
When these systems work overtime, people can feel agitated, irritable, or angry. It can be difficult to spot symptoms of an overactive autonomic nervous system unless you know what to look for. 
Even being near plants can have a positive effect on a dysregulated nervous system, producing an overall calming and therapeutic effect, lessening the chance of a self-harming episode. 
Plants Improve Mental Health: 
In an extensive review on the mental health benefits in plants, researchers at Texas A&M University found that living in environments surrounded by greenery reduces rates of stress, enhances positive moods, inspires creativity, improves brain function, and reduces violence. 
Mental fatigue in prison inmates is incredibly common, as prison is primarily focused on mental punishment. Plants have been shown to speed up recovery of mental fatigue and allow inmates to ‘recharge their batteries’ faster. This repair can be the difference between feeling overly agitated by others or possessing the ability to walk away. 
While the specific reasons why are debated, plants have been known to decrease rates of depression for centuries. Just their presence can give inmates a mood boost, diminish symptoms of depression, and calm feelings of anxiety that may be enticing them to violence. 
Plants Reduce Tension: 
Our brains are incredibly convincing when we recognize something familiar. Having plants, lawns, and trees can decrease tension among prisoners by reminding them of simpler times. 
Even being near plants can bring back memories of nature and the outdoors which can be instantly calming. 
Plants can reduce tension, and violence among inmates by awakening old memories and reminding them of what lies beyond those prison walls, waiting for them. This can make them more hopeful for the future, while lessening the risk of engaging in self destructive behaviors. 
Vegetation such as lawns, trees, and outdoor plants have been linked to lower rates of crime and violence both inside, and outside prisons. 
Are Plants The Future Of Prisons? 
The benefits of adding vegetation to a bleak environment are only in the beginning stages of being understood. However, the findings are incredibly promising. 
Not only do plants bring life to a normally depressing situation, but they have also been proven to reduce anger, stress, depression, and anxiety - all mental health struggles that can lead to violence (whether with other inmates, or against themselves). 
In addition, assigning inmates with gardening tasks can boost self-esteem, keep them motivated, bring a sense of purpose to their sentence, and help them learn valuable team collaboration skills they can then take with them into the real world. The care required to keep plants alive can be used as a mindfulness tool, allowing prison inmates to connect with deeper parts of themselves. 
When inmates are encouraged to connect with their inner self, healing can occur. This healing can be the ultimate factor influencing an inmate to walk away from self-harming behaviors. 
With a glaring need for jailhouse reform, many psychologists hope greenery will be considered in future prison environments. 
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