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Meditation in jails decrease court caseloads

April 20, 2022

By Eric Brewer

Research shows that implementing mindfulness-based practices can complement cognitive-behavioral therapy programs used in prisons. While this may appear as a corrections issue at first glance, successful mindfulness interventions have reduced jail violence and recidivism, thereby lessening overall court caseloads.

Mindfulness is the secular practice of focusing attention upon one’s stream of consciousness without judgement toward the thoughts, emotions, and other sensations that appear. It is informed by traditional meditation techniques. Consistent practice has been shown to decrease emotional reactivity, increase attention span, and improve empathy.

There is a critical need for mindfulness among the incarcerated. People in prison disproportionately suffer from physical and mental health problems, which can be exacerbated by the environment of the prison facility itself. Research suggests that mindfulness-based nonviolence programs can be implemented in heterogeneous inmate populations in both private and public prison systems. A 14-week mindfulness course run by the Freedom Project saw a 16% drop in recidivism rates over a ten-year follow-up period.

More than half of people in American prisons suffer from substance use disorders. When treated, they are less likely to engage in post-release substance abuse, and are less involved in the criminal justice system. Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) initiatives have had promising results and can be integrated into existing correctional drug treatment programs in prisons. MBRP can supplement traditional treatment programs that generate long-lasting behavioral changes, which has significant implications for recidivism and those in drug courts. A common problem with some cognitive-behavioral drug treatments is that the effects are short-lived, and relapse rates are high. In contrast, the benefits of MBRP may last longer especially for those that do not have access to aftercare.

Mindfulness interventions are a cost-effective way to improve mental health in prison populations. When coupled with other cognitive-behavioral therapies, mindfulness improves mental health during incarceration and afterwards.

Want to know more about mindfulness for judges and court staff? Check out this Tiny Chat.

Has your court engaged with your detention partners to implement a mindfulness-based practice? Let us know at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.