A landscape architecture project at Iowa State University is being recognized by a national group for working to make the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women a more humane environment.
The American Society of Landscape Architecture is giving the ISU project a Community Service Award of Excellence for creating outdoor classrooms and a “decompression area” for staff at Mitchellville’s women’s prison.
The program is led by Julie Stevens, a professor in landscape architecture at ISU. She says studies show time spent in high-quality outdoor environments is therapeutic.
“A lot of these women are in intensive treatment programs,” Stevens says. “For them to be inside a walled room with almost no natural lighting all day long, with no other stimulation, it’s really difficult for them to maintain focus. So, the ability to be in the outdoor environment restores that sense of focus and attention, reduced stress.”
She says the work expands the horizons of both inmates and students.
“The opportunity to work with the Iowa Department of Corrections has put students in a position where they’re talking and working side by side with people who have grown up very differently than they have,” Stevens says. “They haven’t had the same privileges, but they’re getting behind a common goal and the desire to make this place better and that has been so powerful for everybody involved.”
Though they weren’t part of the award entry, ISU students and inmates also built vegetable and healing gardens. The project is one of 23 honored by the ASLA. Winning entries will be featured in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.
(Thanks to Sarah Boden, Iowa Public Radio)