No man chooses evil because it is evil;
he only mistakes it for happiness.
— MARY WOLLSTONECRAPT
WHAT GOES ON behind the walls of a prison? Most of us (myself included) don’t really give the matter much thought. To the extent that we do, our ideas are shaped by movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, based on a Stephen King novella, and other fictional portrayals.
Such depictions generally tell the story of an innocent man, framed by his enemies and wrongfully imprisoned. In real life, most prisoners have in fact committed crimes, some of them violent crimes, and many prisoners are addicts.
So, what should be done about prisoners? Should society lock them up and throw away the key? Or should we try to rehabilitate them (indeed, is it possible to do so)? Balancing the safety of society with the rights of prisoners is an old problem — and different solutions have been proposed. At this time, however, a consensus is building among experts in the field that we have too many prisoners.
People in Jail: The Numbers are Staggering
Consider the following startling facts:
* Between 1980 and 2007 the U.S. population increased by 35 percent. In that same time period, the prison population increased by 373 percent — more than ten times the population increase!
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* The United States has had the highest ratio of incarceration among industrialized nations, including China. Approximately 3 percent of the adult population of the United States was under correctional supervision in 1997.
* Overall $68 billion is spent annually on corrections systems in the United States.
* Approximately 70 percent of released U.S. prisoners will be rearrested within three years.
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Clearly we need new ways to reduce this runaway financial burden without compromising public safety. We must also consider that most prisoners (around 95 percent) will be released sooner or later. When that happens, their state of mind and their risk for recidivism are highly relevant to everyone. According to Tom O’Connor, currently CEO of Transforming Corrections in Salem, Oregon, rehabilitation is the only reasonable solution.
Can Transcendental Meditation (TM) Reduce Recidivism?
Three well-designed retrospective studies have analyzed recidivism. In one, Bleick and Abrams followed 259 felons released from San Quentin, Folsom, and Deuel state prisons, comparing them to 259 controls. They found that parolees who had taken part in TM sessions were 40 percent less likely to be reconvicted within one year of their release from prison, and 30 percent less likely to be reconvicted within six years. Both findings were not just statistically significant but highly significant. This alone would be impressive.
But there’s more. Maxwell Rainforth, of Maharishi University, and colleagues assessed these same people fifteen years after they were released from prison and found that those who had learned TM remained 43 percent less likely to have been reconvicted.
Charles Alexander and colleagues conducted a similar follow-up study of former inmates released from Walpole State Prison in Massachussetts. They compared 152 ex-cons who had learned TM with four other groups of inmates who had participated in prison programs counseling, drug rehabilitation, or different forms of religious activities. Over a six-year period the TM group was one third less likely to be reconvicted.
Shutting Down Prisons Due to Lack of Inmates?
One of the most curious studies of recidivism was conducted in Senegal. TM was taught to 11,000 inmates in thirty-one out of thirty-four prisons. According to a report in Corrections Today, the official publication of the American Correctional Association:
Before the program was introduced in Senegal in January 1987, inmates there returned to prison at a rate of about 90 percent within the first month. After TM had been instituted, a study of 2,400 inmates released through an amnesty in June 1988 revealed that fewer than 200 of them returned within the first six months.
Colonel Mamadou Diop, Senegal’s corrections director, credited meditation with the drop in recidivism. Diop reported in January 1989 that as a result of reducing recidivism, Senegal had closed three prisons and eight others were idled at 6 to 30 percent capacity.
Meditation as a Tool to Help Prisoners Outgrow Crime
Considering the sheer volume of positive data, it seems strange that the TM practice has not been widely embraced as a tool for helping prisoners outgrow crime.
As data accumulate, however, and state budgets shrink — while populations of addicts and prisoners keep rising — now may be the right time to propose something different. The new major study of TM now in progress in the Oregon Correctional System, as well as a recently published review titled “Meditation Research: The State of the Art in Corrections,” suggest that the time is right for expanding the practice of TM in prisons.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation
by Norman E. Rosenthal.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA). ©2011. www.us.PenguinGroup.com.
About the Author
Dr. Norman Rosenthal pioneered the use of light therapy in the treatment of SAD, or “winter blues”, during his career as an award-winning researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health in the USA. He has conducted extensive research into disorders of mood, sleep and biological rhythms, resulting in over 200 scholarly publications. He has recently suggested the use of Transcendental Meditation for the prevention and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions. He is the author or co-author of five popular books, including Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation, Winter Blues, The Emotional Revolution, St. John’s Wort and How to Beat Jet Lag. For more information please see http://normanrosenthal.com.