The Nature Imagery in Prisons Project

Dr. Hasbach is a member of a research team that investigated the effects of nature imagery on men in solitary confinement at a state prison in Oregon.

Many studies have shown that experiences with real nature and exposure to nature imagery reduces stress, anxiety, and aggression, and improves psychological states and cognitive skills in a wide range of venues including hospitals, schools, and assisted living centers. But one of the most violent and stressful human environments is inside correctional facilities, where real nature is almost entirely inaccessible. In 44 states, solitary confinement is being used to house an estimated 80,000  inmates. These intensive management units (IMUs) are costly to build and operate, and they are typically more dangerous and stressful for officers and staff than those facilities that house the general prison population.

Snake River Correctional InstitutionSnake River Correctional Institution

In 2013, at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI) in Oregon, a committee of administrators, mental health professionals, captains, and officers was formed to explore the challenges and benefits of providing nature films to inmates in solitary confinement to reduce violence and improve behavior. The committee consulted with experts in natural history/ecology, ecopsychology, nature media, and corrections research to generate ideas for implementing the Nature Imagery Project. In April 2013, SRCI staff began to offer nature films to IMU inmates in the indoor recreation room – now known as the “Blue Room.”

Approximately one year after SRCI staff began the Nature Imagery Project, our research team including colleagues from the University of Utah (Nalini Nadkarni, Ph.D. and Emily Gaines, M.A.) and National Geographic Society (Tierney Thys, Ph.D.) was assembled.  Dr. Hasbach was primarily responsible for the psychological component of the study. In March 2015, the research team spent three days collecting data utilizing  a mixed-methods research approach to better understand and document the impacts of the Nature Imagery Project on inmates and staff.  Dr. Hasbach presented some of the research findings at the American Psychological Association convention in August 2016.

Time Magazine (November 20, 2014) named this idea of using nature imagery in solitary confinement cells as “One of the 25 Best Inventions of 2014.”  Highlights of our findings were published in the American Corrections Association’s publication, Corrections Today ( Jan./Feb. 2017) and in the academic journal, Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment (Sept. 2017).  See Publications tab for a link to the articles.