Skip to main content

C’est Magnifique! Washington’s Correctional Gardens Draw Overseas Interest

November 20, 2019

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

Four People standing beside grass on a sidewalk

From left to right: French prison visitors Mathilde Zamorano, Matthieu Sirieix, Sustainability in Prisons Project Education and Outreach Manager Joslyn Rose-Trivett, and Washington Corrections Center Grounds Specialist Benri Deanon. The group recently toured Washington prison gardens in hopes to replicate them abroad. (Ricky Osborne, Sustainability in Prisons Project)

See Photo Gallery

Washington’s correctional produce gardens are well known throughout the state. Incarcerated individuals maintain and grow produce in the gardens. The produce is then used in the correctional facilities' kitchens and the remainder is donated to local food banks.

But can correctional facility gardening programs be replicated overseas?

Mathilde Zamorano and Matthieu Sirieix hope the answer is “Oui!” (Yes!)

Zamorano is a probation officer from Paris. She met Sirieix when he worked as a head gardener at Mauzac prison and she was a garden volunteer. Mauzac, located about 365 miles south of Paris, is one of the few prisons in France that has a garden.

The pair of international visitors toured several gardens in Washington state correctional facilities in September and October. They want to get ideas on how they can bring Washington’s model back to France.

“A lot of times after they (incarcerated individuals) are released from incarceration, they are just totally lost,” Zamorano said. “They have no solution for housing or for working, and that’s why we want to prepare something like this into prisons.”

What Zamorano is referring to is the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP). SPP is a collaboration between the Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. It leads science and environmental sustainability programs within a correctional setting. SPP has inmate-led gardens at all 12 of the state’s correctional facilities. In fiscal year 2017, incarcerated individuals grew and harvested nearly 246 tons of produce from their correctional gardens.

Zamorano and Sirieix toured gardens at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, Stafford Creek Corrections Center, and Washington Corrections Center. They also toured GRACE Garden in Kitsap County, to which an incarcerated work crew travels several times a week. In addition to observing how the gardens operate, the visitors spent hours working alongside the incarcerated gardeners, pulling weeds and harvesting and packaging vegetables.

Launched in Washington state in 2003, SPP has projects in 22 states. It also has projects in other countries including Canada, Japan, Tasmania, India, and through the English Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom, according to Joslyn Rose-Trivett, SPP’s education and outreach manager.

Similarities and Differences

At Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women and Washington Corrections Center, Zamorano and Sirieix gave presentations about the criminal justice system in France and talked about similarities and differences between French and American correctional settings.

For instance, both nations are grappling with correctional capacity issues. According to data from the World Prison Brief, both nations are in the top 150 countries where the majority of prisons operate at more than 100 percent capacity. A 2018 report in Forbes said 18 states were operating above 100 percent capacity. (Editor’s note: Washington state’s prisons are operating under capacity at 99.7%)

Unlike the United States, France does not have a death penalty. The French government abolished the death penalty in 1981. The death penalty is still used in 25 states. In 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional, saying it is arbitrary and racially biased. France also does not use life without parole sentencing.

“Most people will leave prison eventually and that’s why it’s so important to have projects like this to increase their prospects after release, to help them keep studying or to find work,” Zamorano said.

Sirieix said much of the food at Maurzac is sold in local farmer’s markets, and money raised goes back into the prison program. He says many of the incarcerated individuals with whom he has worked with come from urban areas and have not experienced spending time on a farm or in nature, and says being outside transforms their outlook on life.

“Most of them were from big towns and many of them don’t want to go back after working in the fields,” Sirieix said. “Many of them told me they enjoy being outside and spending time in this type of open space. Maurzac is known for its farms and that’s why the incarcerated individuals want to go there.”

Insight from Gardeners

At the Mission Creek presentation, SPP Education and Outreach Manager Joslyn Rose-Trivett asked the women who have worked at the garden to share some insights with the French visitors:

“I feel like it’s important to give back after taking away from the community and show how much we’ve changed.”

“It gives us a sense of ownership and a sense of purpose. It’s something you help build.”

“It’s really nice to be around nature. It’s really nice to know we’re getting some fresh food and hands-on experience doing something for our environment.”

“It improves our health. Better food means we don’t get sick and it saves taxpayer dollars.”

“Even though you’re behind bars, you can say you grew this. You feel accomplished.”