New Mexico Nature in Prisons Project


The New Mexico Nature in Prisons Project (NPP) is a new program spearheaded by the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The vision of the program is to facilitate an inclusive education program in New Mexico prison facilities that contributes to the resilience and health of New Mexico’s natural landscapes, with a focus on native plant restoration on public lands. The program supports the National Seed Strategy by seeking to preserve ecologically and culturally significant plant species in order to improve the health of native plant communities on public lands for the direct benefit of wildlife as well as people and cultures.


This project is co-managed by IAE and the Bureau of Land Management State Office in Santa Fe. In the first year of the program implementation, a partnership was established with the Penitentiary of New Mexico (PNM) Minimum Restriction Unit (MRU) to implement the education program and grow over 5,000 native plant plugs for restoration. A central goal of NPP is to partner with inmates to develop the program, together, in a way that will prove most useful to program participants. We are grateful for the inmates and staff members involved in the project who have made the program come alive this year.


NPP includes an education component, which provides an opportunity for inmates to develop new skills and knowledge while inside prison to prepare for re-entry into civic life. Inmates are provided with hands-on experience growing native plants, bi-weekly horticulture lessons,  and a monthly lecture series. Lecture topics are varied, encompassing wildlife and habitat management, desert ecology, horticulture techniques, pollinators, and plants as they relate to culture.

Fifteen inmates have participated in the program to date and will receive certificates of completion, highlighting their botany and horticulture accomplishments. As professional skills are gained, the question of future relevant job opportunities remains. For the inmates who have participated in the program and built a strong basis in horticulture, ecology, and restoration, job eligibility in a relevant field is vital for successful reintegration into society.


Inmates constructed a permanent hoop house in the spring to build nursery capacity. Subsequently, seeds from seven locally collected species were planted for future restoration outplanting. The BLM provided seeds collected by local Seeds of Success crews. Species included mountain mahogany, fourwing saltbush, winterfat, apache plume, redwhisker clammyweed, common sunflower, and upright prairie coneflower. Germination and viability data were collected in the first few months of nursery production. Annual forb species were successfully outplanted at a BLM visitor center and recreation area with the help of inmates and volunteers in August 2018.


Our vision is to expand the program in future years by working with multiple prison facilities and growing nursery capacity. We plan to enhance the education component and partner with universities to improve access to accredited classes to work towards reducing recidivism. Engaging tribal populations more intentionally is another goal, which would include growing native species with cultural significance that can be outplanted on tribal lands, as well as public lands. This program is in its infancy, so there is potential for growth in many directions.

We are grateful to our partners with the BLM for their tireless dedication and visioning in developing this exciting new project.