Alliance for Iowa State
-Make Your Voice Heard-

There's no textbook for this. No set of instructions for what they're doing. Because no one has done anything quite like this before: Teams of college students and incarcerated women are transforming acres of barren prison yard into a beautiful, bountiful landscape that feeds the body and restores the human spirit.

The partnership between Iowa State University's Department of Landscape Architecture and the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville is in its third year of providing hands-on learning experiences to students and offenders alike. The students discover the challenges and rewards of putting their designs into practice, while the offenders gain meaningful vocational and life skills.

Award-winning efforts
During the first project in 2013, the team constructed three multipurpose outdoor classrooms. Last year, they designed and built a decompression area for prison staff, and planted 260 trees and an acre of native prairie flowers and grasses. Those projects won a 2015 Student Award of Excellence in Community Service from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which will be featured in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine and presented at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago in November.

This summer, the team planted a nearly one-acre production garden of vegetables and herbs that may provide as much as $60,000 worth of food to the ICIW kitchens this year. They also designed and installed a healing garden for the prison's special needs population.

Research has shown that healthy outdoor environments are restorative and can generate rehabilitative effects, says landscape architecture Assistant Professor Julie Stevens, who leads the collaboration with ICIW Warden Patti Wachtendorf. Iowa Department of Corrections administrators expect the project to become a national model for creating humane and healing landscapes in a restrictive prison environment.

"We hope to show that the changes we're making are having positive impacts on offenders and staff and they feel calm and motivated by the work," Stevens said. "We know we have women who find this restorative. They like giving back. They love the idea that they're growing food for their fellow inmates."

Did you know? Eighteen students and 25 offenders have worked on the projects at ICIW over the past three summers. Many more have volunteered and attended focus groups. The teams have installed more than 200 tons of limestone block, 440 tons of gravel, 8100 bricks, 3500 prairie plants, 3000 perennials, and 280 trees and shrubs. All materials were donated or deeply discounted.
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The Alliance for Iowa State is maintained by the Iowa State University Alumni Association. 


The Alliance for Iowa State is a coalition of Iowa State University alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends.

The Alliance advocates Iowa State University's land grant mission throughout Iowa while focusing its advocacy on

state legislators and public policy makers.