From experience I can tell you that there is nothing better than regular meditation for both providing inner peace of mind and long-lasting positive changes in your wellbeing. It's much more than just a stress-relieving pause it's truly a transformative experience. But can it work for prisoners?
The LA Times has an interesting article on how at the LA County Men's Central Jail--which the article points out is described as being "medieval enough to drive men mad" with "dark, windowless cells [giving] inmates little opportunity for rehabilitation"--for the past three years a course in Buddhist mediation has been offered.
Run by volunteers, the program allows inmates to "learn how to deal with conflict a little better," according to LA County Sheriff's Captain Daniel Cruz. "They look within themselves. They're not so easily excited or angered."
Inmate Remembered Mantra When Provoked
As for the effect on inmates, one had,
...long struggles with anger and had been sent to "the hole," or solitary confinement, at least once for blowing up at a deputy. [Buddhist chaplain Gary] Janka counseled him to control his anger in situations in which he felt provoked. On one occasion he instructed the man to fill three notebook pages with the mantra "don't bite the hook."
Weeks later, his cell was searched for contraband, a process that had set him off in the past.
"Normally he would've gone ballistic," Janka said. "But the first thing he said popped up in his mind was 'don't bite the hook."
Now you may object that "don't bite the hook" isn't really a mantra. Where's the Sanskrit? But remember that the meaning of 'mantra' most literally is "to free from (to protect) the mind." In this case, that was exactly the result.
Observing the Emotions, Not Reacting To Them
The key in all this is being mindful, being observant of your reaction to situations--watching how your awareness moves from place to place. When it's someplace that otherwise would set you off, bring you down, cause anxiety, with practice it's as simple as moving your awareness to a different place. Then you can ask yourself, why did you go to the place of anger, anxiety, impatience, intolerance? And hopefully next time not repeat the reaction.
In any case, read more about the LA County meditation program.
Three Months of Yoga = 15 Days Shorter Sentence, In India Then consider that in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, as the BBC reported back in January, prisoners who take up a yoga practice--and not just asana, but from the sounds of it meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises)--can get time reduced from their sentence: 15 days off for every three months practicing, with the approval of the jail superintendent as to the prisoner's progress.