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Meditation in a Deep South Prison: A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Vipassana

NCJ Number
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume: 51 Issue: 3 Dated: April 2012 Pages: 176-198
Abigayl M. Perelman; Sarah L. Miller; Carl B. Clements; Amy Rodriguez; Kathryn Allen; Ron Cavanaugh
Date Published
23 pages
This study examined the psychological and behavioral effects of intensive ten-day Vipassana Meditation (VM) retreats in a maximum security prison.
In an era marked by pronounced overcrowding, including an increasing number of offenders serving long-term sentences, correctional systems continue to search for innovative and effective treatments. Few jurisdictions have attempted non-Western approaches such as meditative practice to reduce stress, conflict, and rule infractions. The current study examined the psychological and behavioral effects of intensive 10-day Vipassana Meditation (VM) retreats in a maximum security prison. VM goals and practice are consistent with evidence-based methods such as cognitive behavioral treatment and Risk-Need-Responsivity principles, as well as newer conceptions such as the Good Lives Model. Long-term offenders were followed over a 1-year period. These included 3 retreat cohorts (n = 60) as well as an alternative treatment comparison group (n = 67). Pretreatment measures assessed mindfulness, anger, emotional intelligence, and mood states. Baseline rates of prison infractions, segregation time, and health visits were also recorded. VM participants achieved enhanced levels of mindfulness and emotional intelligence and had decreased mood disturbance relative to a comparison group. Both groups' rates of behavioral infractions were reduced at 1-year follow-up. Clinically, VM holds promise for addressing self-regulation and impulse control, among other barriers to prisoner adjustment and community reentry. Additional study of VM across diverse offender groups is warranted. Abstract published by arrangement with Taylor and Francis.