Prison Program in Calhoun County

Eldon Everhart, Field Specialist-Horticulture, Southwest

Problem Statement: 

Challenges faced by ex-offenders in Iowa include prejudice, discrimination, and lack of support.  Most lack the training and education needed for legitimate jobs.  Ex-offenders have 40 percent less employment opportunities even though most are highly motivated.  This makes reintegration into society difficult and contributes to the high recidivism rate.

Before ISU Extension programs began at the North Central Correctional Facility in Calhoun County, there were few if any horticulture training and educational activities inside the prison and the food served to the inmates and staff had low nutritional value and poor flavor.  Inmates disliked the food, the drab surroundings, and the limited outdoor activities.

Programmatic Response: 

Over 30 years of research has documented that horticulture activities in prisons have behavior benefits and provide valuable vocational training.  A recent study, found that inmates who got training and education in prison were significantly more successful in post-release employment and had a lower recidivism rate.

Based on these findings, Calhoun County CEED Jerry Chizek and Field Specialist Eldon Everhart conduct on-site consultations, hands-on workshops, and training sessions related to horticulture activities.  These sessions are available to inmates, staff, and volunteers inside the facility at various times during the year.


Inmates and staff at the North Central Correctional Facility use the training provided by Extension to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  Work opportunities for inmates now include maintenance of the flower beds on the grounds, care of the extensive gardens which produce more than 30,000 pounds of vegetables annually, and assisting the instructors in teaching the Master Gardener program.  Some inmates say that Extension training has given them confidence and a positive attitude.  Staff members claim that inmates who get this training have better behavior and fewer problems.  Produce yields have increase yearly since the time when ISU Extension became involved.  In 2007, the estimated value of the horticulture crops produced at the North Central Correctional Facility was about $60,000.

But the real value is the training and education that this produce represents.  For each ex-offender who does not return to prison there is a savings of about $22,000 per year.  Thats the yearly cost to keep a prisoner behind bars.

130 Horticulture: Commercial and Consumer

Page last updated: January 8, 2008
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,