While there is evidence that yoga had a positive effect on one Israeli prison, the main argument this topic is faced with is that, if this rehab method does work, it might only work for prisons in the USA where we are a bit more lenient with the prisoners’ lifestyles, schedules, etc. However, other international studies suggest that yoga has a positive effect on prisoners all over the globe. While they might not focus on recidivism directly, the following article shows how yoga can benefit any prisoner on a psychological level. A study done in Catalan, Spain provides the necessary psychological research to withstand any rebuttal that this is a situational problem. The 2016 study, documented by Mar Griera, states that “modern prisons are institutions founded on the rehabilitative ideal,” meaning the primary prisons of research are moral, and this excludes, from any research, any immoral prisons in smaller, less wealthy countries.

The target penitentiaries are those that allow their inmates free time and their own human rights. Another attribute of this study is that all the yoga instructors were volunteers, so the eight-week program was conducted at virtually no cost. Furthermore, Griera concludes that “yoga, along with meditation, has gained presence in the penitentiary settings of many different countries like the US, Switzerland, Chile, the UK, and many others.” This summarizes only some of the multitude of studies done on this topic. Although, it alludes to the idea that this is an international method of rehabilitation, and therefore recidivism, because prisoners with a relaxed mindset are less likely to be affiliated with criminal activity in their years after release.

To further prove this, in their article “Participation in a 10-week Course of Yoga Improves Behavioural Control and Decreases Psychological Distress in a Prison Population”, Amy C. and colleagues study 167 randomly selected inmates from seven different British prisons. The researchers studied the effects of a ten-week yoga course and compare the results to a control group; Specifically, the inmates’ moods, behaviors, and levels of stress were monitored alongside a cognitive-behavioral test to measure psychological data. The study was considered an “exploratory trial” and the researchers did not take into consideration the possible reduction of recidivism, as they simply wanted to find out the instant psychological results.

In this experiment which was conducted in 2013, there were eight simple yoga positions used without meditation and the results are as follow. Amy C. reported that “prisoners who were randomly assigned to attend a ten-week yoga intervention reported improved mood, reduced stress, and reduced psychological distress… Furthermore,  participants  in  the  yoga  group  demonstrated improved performance in a cognitive-behavioural task.” This proves that yoga has an immediate effect on the lives of prisoners, and even if it won’t change their personalities or convert them into spiritual beings, it does have an effect on their behavior- and that’s something that everyone can agree is beneficial in a prison setting. This article also shows how yoga, an ancient eastern practice, can affect any human regardless of their location or situation. It’s not just an American scheme to make more money/please the public. There have been multiple studies done worldwide that demonstrate how yoga has a positive impact on the lives of convicted criminals.

Lastly, there is a 2019 article by authors Anthony Hopkins, Lorana Bartels, and Lisa Oxman that conducted research in an Australian prison. In compliance with the Yoga Foundation and the ACT Services (Australian Capitol Territory) they “introduced a pilot yoga program at the Alexander  Maconochie Centre” and the results  “advocate for the expansion of such programs in Australian prisons,” according to Hopkins. The study partook at the Alexander Manconochie Centre, or the AMC, which is the main housing location for every adult prisoner in the ACT. Hopkins documented in the article from 2019 that a majority of the prisoners were hardcore, they were tattoo-covered and muscular, convicted of high-scale felonies. Again, this research concludes that yoga has a highly positive impact on the participants, and this also goes to show that the use of yoga in penitentiaries is not only effective for common American prisoners convicted with relatively “permissible crimes”, but also for the  prisoners who have committed more severe crimes. Of course, no crime is permissible because it breaks the law, but there is a difference between a prisoner whose minor demeanors have accumulated their sentence time and a prisoner who has committed a greater crime that deems them guilty for ten plus years, for example. That said, the use of yoga in prisons can be used on a grand scale and not just for American prisons because it is a psychological concept that can, with the right tools, be used worldwide.

On a broader spectrum, this level of rehabilitation might not seem possible to the average American because we might not know any better. However, there are many different instances where prisons would readily accept yoga class implementations because their prisons are “open”. For example, in Finland there are a number of “open prisons” where “prisoners apply to be there and the facilities don’t have gates, locks or uniforms. Prisoners earn money…and can also choose to study toward a university degree instead of working. Finland realized incarceration is not the answer to social problems,” as deemed by author Natalie Moore in 2021. So if the United States viewed prison as a more rehabilitative program versus a program of strictly punishment, there would be ample opportunity for improvement.  

The idea that yoga will reduce recidivism in penitentiaries is not one that comes without skepticism. However, there have been numerous studies done internationally that refute these claims and offer support that yoga and meditation calm the inmates’ minds, stress, and behaviors, ultimately resulting in the reduction of crime for the foreseeable future. This is not limited to the prisons of America, as this principle has stretched far beyond the border, positively affecting prisoners anywhere from Spain to Australia and beyond.


Amy C. Bilderbeck, Miguel FariasInti, A. Brazil, Sharon Jakobowitz, Catherine Wikholm. “Participation in a 10-week course of yoga improves behavioural control and decreases psychological distress in a prison population”. Elsevier. Journal of Psychiatric research,  18 June. 2013. Web. 9 December. 2021

Anthony Hopkins, Lorana Bartels, Lisa Oxman. “Lessons in Flexibility: Introducing a Yoga Program in an Australian Prison”. Proquest. Crime Justice Journal, 2019. Web 9 December. 2021.

Mar Griera. “Yoga in Penitentiary Settings: Transcendence, Spirituality, and Self-Improvement”. Proquest. Springer Science+Business Media, 29 July. 2016. Web 14 December. 2021.

Natalie Moore. “Finland’s Open Prisons”. Pulitzer Center, 2 September. 2021. Web 18 December 2021.

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