Should Prisons Offer Yoga? Should Prisons Offer Yoga?
The GOOD Life

Should Prisons Offer Yoga?

by Andrew Price

February 18, 2010
This program in India, which allows prisoners to shave time off their prison sentences by taking yoga lessons, got some attention in the media yesterday:
For every three months spent practising posture, balance and breathing the inmates can cut their jail time by 15 days. The authorities say the lessons help to improve the prisoners' self-control and reduce aggression. ... The state's inspector general of prisons, Sanjay Mane, said: "Yoga is good for maintaining fitness, calming the behaviour, controlling anger and reducing stress."
The psychological and physical benefits of meditation and yoga are well documented. They alone are probably reason enough to offer it to inmates. But these programs sometimes face challenges. A Norwegian prison yoga trial program was abandoned in 2005:
High-security Ringerike jail near Oslo offered [yoga] classes to eight inmates on a trial basis earlier this year. Prison warden Sigbjoern Hagen said some of the inmates became more irritable and agitated and had trouble sleeping. He said the prison did not have the resources to treat emotions unleashed by the deep breathing exercises.
I think the solution in Norway's case shouldn't have been to abandon yoga, but to provide additional mental health resources to treat the emotions it "unleashed."Prison yoga exists in the United States too. The Prison Yoga Project has been operating in the Bay Area for several years and New Hampshire has had a program. There are plenty of testimonials as to its value, but there don't seem to be any large-scale studies about its effects on recidivism. And in the absence of validating data (and the desire to collect it) something like prison yoga is an easy target for politicians who want to look tough on crime.
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Should Prisons Offer Yoga?