|Services Open Space Can Meditation Solve the Crime Problems in Prisons?|
Initiate Jeen-Fong, Taipei, Formosa
America has more prison inmates than any other nation in the world. Specifically, its jailed population is five times the number in other industrialized nations. In 1970 there were fewer than 200,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today, less than 30 years later, the number has increased almost tenfold. The states are spending an annual average of US$100 million on building new prisons to accommodate the growing inmate population.
Although new educational methods such as vocational training and psychotherapy are frequently introduced, they have been ineffective in reducing recidivism. Two-thirds of those jailed for felonies commit criminal offenses within three years after release.
Judge Mason, in his fifth year as a St. Louis Circuit Court judge handling major criminal and civil cases, grew up in tough neighborhoods in Tennessee and New York City where he was exposed to drug abuse, violence, and crime every day. He saw friends suffering from drug abuse thrown behind bars. Even his own family members were addicted to drugs and engaged in violent acts. When Judge Mason found that not one study indicated that the crime rate could be lowered by increased incarceration, he decided to introduce meditation into the prison system. To date, seven people found guilty of criminal offenses have been sentenced to learning a stress-reducing meditation technique. Mason plans to increase the number to a hundred in a preliminary study in which convicts are assigned to meditation practice during probation. Placing much hope on having meditation become an alternative to imprisonment and thereby relieving the prison shortage problem, he has been called a "crime fighter".
In other prison systems, a meditation program has been used whereby practitioners sit comfortably in a chair with their eyes closed twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes. Thousands of inmates and correctional officers have learned this technique. The following are brief reports of the experiences by those who have practiced this method:
1. Bill McCuistion, correctional counselor, San Quentin Prison, California, U.S.:
I have observed positive changes among inmates who meditate. Initially, the inmates were apprehensive about keeping their eyes closed for 20 minutes while they were together with inmates of other backgrounds. But now when these people gather together, we see that alienation has been replaced by a sense of cohesiveness. I have seen hostility give way to congeniality over the past few years.
2. John G., inmate, San Quentin Prison, California, U.S.:
"For years, life meant nothing to me but drugs and penitentiaries. These things had eaten up my mind. Who would have thought that I would find inner peace at a place called San Quentin. Meditation gives a person something that no one can take away. That something is inner peace and a discovery of one's inner self."
3. A.W., inmate, Senegal, West Africa:
Meditation has changed my attitude toward correctional officers and my fellow inmates. Now I am more self-confident and filled with a spirit of peace and harmony. I behave better. Frankly, I confess that when the program started, I did not fully agree with it. But now I can only say that I have been quite fortunate. My only regret is that I started too late.
4. Victor R., inmate, Vacaville Prison, California, U.S.:
"I feel very conscious and am more active about communicating with others. Work has become easier and I can do it in a more orderly way. People are responding to me with warmth and sincerity. They have noticed how full of life I am."
Studies on meditation have demonstrated that prison inmates gain many benefits from the technique. Some of these benefits include:
1. Improved mental and spiritual health, and reduced drug abuse. Meditation helps to maintain a more balanced and stable physiological functioning. This, in effect, brings about significant changes in the long-standing aberrant behavior patterns of drug abusers. Homeostasis in physiological functioning is correlated with positive behavior that carries over into life upon release from prison.
2. Better sleep patterns, relief from insomnia, more involvement in positive activities, and better psychological conditioning. A cross-validation study of 150 inmates in California's Folsom State Prison indicated that meditation significantly reduced state and trait anxiety, insomnia, neuroticism, and behavioral infractions.
3. Less stress and anxiety. Meditation has been shown to reduce the level of stress in prisoners as measured physiologically by their spontaneous skin resistance responses. Studies have shown that regular meditation practice is proportionately related to self-discipline and stability.
4. Fewer visits to the hospital and doctor, and decreased use of prescribed drugs.
5. Reduced violence and fear of violence. Senegal's President Abdou Diouf introduced meditation programs in 31 prisons nationwide. More than 11,000 prisoners and 900 correctional officers learned the method. Prison violence has since decreased markedly and recidivism rates have plunged from 90 percent to 8 percent.
6. Reduced recidivism. A study of more than 100 maximum security inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution showed that those who meditated became less aggressive and suffered less from mental disorders as compared to those in the wait-list control group and four other rehabilitation programs. Meditation was found to significantly reduce anxiety, aggression, tension, and introversion. The recidivism rate for those who meditated was 30 to 35 percent lower than for those in the other four treatment groups.
those released after completing their jail sentences, the following
benefits have been seen:
These studies indicate that while prison life causes a build-up of physiological stress and in effect leads to violent and antisocial behavior among inmates, concomitant use of meditation techniques may help to alleviate or significantly decrease tendencies toward violent behavior. The evidence tends to indicate that meditation is more effective than other correctional methods in bringing about positive behavioral changes in inmates. In October 1996, Judge Sherri Sullivan of Missouri's 22nd Circuit Court inaugurated a meditation center that can house 300 to 400 probationers. The opening of this center marks a new trend in ideology toward resolution of the crime issue.
The mediation methods implemented in the cited studies are widely divergent from the Quan Yin Method, nevertheless, their effect on prisoners' rehabilitation and the results from scientific research prove that mediation has been greatly beneficial to the inmates. This is indeed admirable.
In studies of meditation in 48 cities, researchers found that in those cities with more than one percent of the population practicing meditation, there was a 16.6 percent lower crime rate as compared with those cities that had less than one percent of the population practicing meditation. These results substantiate our Master's teachings that the practice of meditation changes the atmosphere of the environment and improves the quality of life of those in our surroundings whether or not they practice meditation. Master Ching Hai said that one of the best ways to usher in the Golden Age and change the Earth into a paradise is to increase the meditating population of the world. This is the way to purify the environment of our Earth planet.
(1) Julie Hirschfeld,
"Judge Tries Thoughtful Sentence, Frequent Meditation Called
Crime-Fighter, "St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday, July 21, 1996.