Prison Yoga Project is working to reform the criminal justice system from the inside out. We believe that a restorative approach to addressing crime, instead of our current punitive system, will create a more humane and effective system of justice. This reform is a necessary step to bringing about a dramatic reduction in the size and cost of our system of mass incarceration, from a financial perspective and in terms of human suffering.
Punitive justice systems place the offender at the center of the process
Restorative justice places the victim at the center of the process and seeks to address the impact and harm of a crime. It encourages offender accountability to repair the harm they have caused to the victim(s), the families, and the community. It encourages collaboration between the victim, the offender, and the community. It encourages offender re-integration and provides opportunities for direct and/or indirect dialogue between the victim, offender, and community. As offenders take responsibility for restitution and meet their oblation to the victim and the community, they begin to see the impact of their choices. This victim-centered approach aims to restore wholeness to those impacted by crime, materially, mentally, and emotionally, and to address the root causes of crime.
It also addresses the harm revealed by crime, the harm suffered by the offender that lay beneath the criminal behavior. This underlying harm can come in many forms: personal trauma, social disadvantage, institutionalized racism, systemic bias, addiction, and more. We offer a restorative practice that focuses on recovery from personal trauma, the cultivation of empathy, and development of personal responsibility so that currently incarcerated men and women may successfully reintegrate as contributing members of society.
Most incarcerated people have a history of complex, interpersonal trauma. This unresolved trauma significantly contributes to criminal behavior. Punishing people for a crime by locking them away in an environment that further traumatizes them, without providing meaningful, transformative lifestyle skills does not promote social good nor public safety. Unless this unresolved trauma is addressed the tendency to re-offend will remain.
Our evidence-supported, trauma-informed approach to yoga and mindfulness supports people to face and release unresolved trauma safely and effectively. We provide resources and tools for recognizing and reducing aggression, impulsivity, reactivity, and despair. With these tools, they have a higher chance of taking personal responsibility and thinking and behaving differently. These tools and resources are the foundation for personal and social transformation.
While a majority of our work is directed toward incarcerated people, through this work we also seek to support the correctional officers, administrators, and healthcare staff working in the criminal justice system. The impact of long-term stress on people working in the criminal justice system, especially the officers, is devastating. It negatively impacts their health, their quality of life, and shortens their lifespans by decades, according to some studies. We work to foster a more peaceful incarceration environment so that they can do their work with greater ease.
Through our work with incarcerated people, we are also aiming for a positive impact on families and communities impacted by crime. More than 90% of incarcerated people will be released. We believe that offering them support for healing and self-rehabilitation is essential to the intention of creating safer communities. We want to empower them to become better fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We want to empower them to be better friends and neighbors, and to become integrated, contributing members of their communities.
This restorative perspective is what we model when we go into a facility. We’ve seen firsthand how this restorative practice positively impacts the men and women with whom we work. We’ve also seen how modeling this humanizing approach and demonstrating its efficacy enables our partners in the criminal justice system to take a different approach. We are leading a prison reform movement by example, by being the change we want to see in the world.