Medical doctor calls for mind-body approaches to help prisoners reduce stress, trauma, and recidivism
A group of female inmates practicing Transcendental Meditation experienced significant reductions in trauma symptoms compared to a control group. Photo credit: The Oregon Department of Corrections*
A randomized study published online January 17, 2017 in The Permanente Journal on 22 female prisoners found that those practicing Transcendental Meditation for four months had significant reductions in total trauma symptoms compared with a control group. And a similar study in the same journal published October 7, 2016, involving 181 male prisoners found a 47% reduction in total trauma symptoms compared to a non-meditating control group.
In an editorial, published February 1, 2017 to accompany the two studies on Transcendental Meditation in their Winter 2017 print edition, Charles Elder, MD, MPH, FACP, a clinician and researcher with Kaiser Permanente, called for wider use of evidence-based mind-body interventions for prisoners.
Advantages of mind-body interventions for prisoners
Dr. Elder cited many of the advantages of these interventions.
Charles Elder, MD, MPH, FACP
“Mind-body interventions can provide the patient with a simple self-help tool that can effectively reduce anxiety, help treat substance abuse, reduce inmate recidivism, and help address a range of medical conditions,” he wrote, citing research on Transcendental Meditation that supports these benefits.
In addition to these benefits, he points out that a mind-body intervention can be cost-effective. Since Transcendental Meditation has been shown to reduce recidivism — the percentage of inmates returning to prison after their release — it can save money that would otherwise be spent on incarceration. And, he points out, a prisoner who becomes a productive member of society provides an economic benefit, instead of a deficit.
Rebecca Pak of The Women’s Prison Association agrees with Dr. Elder, “The results inside correctional facilities and schools with Transcendental Meditation have been simply astounding. If we shifted our focus from punitive responses to interventions designed to improve mental and physical health, we would have much greater impact.”
Convenience of mind-body interventions
Dr. Elder also describes the convenience of mind-body approaches.
“Once taught the technique, an individual can use the skill for the duration of his or her life, as a stress management tool, providing ongoing benefits across a range of domains…. In addition to helping the inmate cope with the stress of incarceration, there is a range of additional ‘side benefits,’ ranging from reduced recidivism to improved cardiovascular health.”
He says a trained instructor can take Transcendental Meditation directly to the prisoners, rather than their going to a clinic or meditation center. And direct personal instruction is better than trying to learn a mind-body intervention online, since many may be unable or unwilling to engage an online format.
Effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation
Sanford Nidich, EdD, lead author
Led by Sanford Nidich, EdD, Director of the Maharishi University of Management Center for Social and Emotional Health, the two recent studies published by The Permanente Journal were conducted at three prisons in Oregon. The hypothesis was that Transcendental Meditation would help prisoners deal with serious trauma and stress. Surveys have shown that prisoners have one of the highest rates of lifetime trauma of any segment of society, with 85% having been a victim of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion, or physical or sexual abuse.
This trauma leads to stress and poor lifestyle choices, including crime and substance abuse. In addition to these recent studies, earlier ones have found that Transcendental Meditation helps inmates deal with trauma and stress and reduces recidivism. Here is a sampling, with some listed in the editorial:
• 2017 — the study described above that found reduced trauma in female prisoners in Oregon
• 2016 — the study mentioned above that found a 47% reduction in total trauma symptoms in male prisoners in Oregon over the course of the four-month study, including a reduction in anxiety, depression, dissociation, and sleep disturbance, as well as a significant decrease in perceived stress
• 2003 — A study of 17 subjects at La Tuna federal penitentiary in Texas showed a reduction on the MMPI psychasthenia scale, suggesting a reduction in obsessive–compulsive behavior, and a decrease in social introversion.
• 2003 — A retrospective followup on 152 inmates who had learned Transcendental Meditation at Walpole prison in Massachusetts found that these inmates were 33% less likely to have returned to prison after 30 days compared to a control group that participated in counseling, drug rehabilitation and religious activities, and 47% less likely compared to all non-meditating control subjects.
• 2003 — A retrospective analysis of 248 inmates at Folsom State Prison used Cox regression analysis to calculate that prisoners who learn Transcendental Meditation are 43.5% less likely to return to prison.
• 1987 — A study of 259 inmates who had learned Transcendental Meditation at several different prisons in California found that they were 40% less likely to have returned to prison one year after release compared to matched controls, and 30% less likely after six years.
• 1978 — A study of 115 inmates at Folsom Prison in California found a reduction in anxiety, negativism, and suspicions, as well as improved sleep.
“The overall body of research suggests that Transcendental Meditation could be used more widely to help prisoners deal with trauma and stress,” said Dr. Nidich, lead author of the recent studies conducted at Oregon prisons.
Source: Mind-Body Training for At-Risk Populations: Preventive Medicine at its Best. [PDF]
About the Transcendental Meditation Technique
Transcendental Meditation® (TM®) is a simple, natural technique practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. The TM technique is easy to learn and enjoyable to practice, and is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle. Unlike other forms of meditation, TM practice involves no concentration, no control of the mind, no contemplation, no monitoring of thoughts. It automatically and effortlessly allows the active thinking mind to settle down to a state of deep inner calm. For more information visit www.tm.org.
*Photo: The Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon.
MarketWired: Medical doctor calls for mind-body approaches to help prisoners reduce stress, trauma, and recidivism
Related posts: New study shows Transcendental Meditation reduces trauma symptoms in female prisoners and Transcendental Meditation reduced stress and trauma symptoms in male prisoners in 4 months.