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Gardens behind the walls

Bill Ritter previews his ABC News report
October 23, 2013 3:45:41 PM PDT
$70 billion. That's what we spend on prisons in the U.S. every year. With about 2.2 million inmates, that's more than $30,000 a year, or twice as much as the cost of going to a state college or university, including room and board. (Here in the tri-state, the cost per prisoner is about $60,000!)

And what do we get for it? Warehoused men (90 percent are men), half of them African-American, half in for non-violent crimes, and most in for much of their lives. Recidivism rates in the country are between 60 and 70 percent, depending on who's doing the counting. And that means that otherwise healthy, productive men are behind bars, costing us money rather than earning money, and paying taxes.

And one more stat - before I offer something positive, and I will offer something positive: There are 2.2 million prisoners in the U.S. That is by far the largest prison population in the world. Second place? China, with four times our population, has just 2/3 the number of prisoners.

We are doing something wrong. That's what prison officials across the country are now saying publicly. And they are, en masse but not in any coordinated way - yet - expressing that by organizing and endorsing prison gardens. That's right, gardens. Fruits and vegetables and flowers. Inch by inch, row by row, these gardens are harvesting much more than just produce. They are giving inmates a chance to do something most have never done - nurture and grow something.

And it's paying off. Recidivism rates for most prison gardens - and the movement is fairly young so long-term rates aren't applicable - are in the single digits. And even at San Quentin, one of the toughest joints of them all, the garden there has a recidivism rate of 10 percent.

Tonight, on Eyewitness News at 5:30 and on World News with Diane Sawyer at 6:30, I take a look at this growing social movement, as we tour various prison gardens. Green is the new orange, if I can be so bold.

I hope you can watch - if not live on TV, then on the web.

All that is backdrop to our 11 p.m. newscast, when we'll have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast (a big change in the forecast), and Laura Behnke (in for Rob Powers) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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