Relieve Trauma Symptoms and Stress in Prisoners with Meditation

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Relieve Trauma Symptoms and Stress in Prisoners with Meditation


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Ever since a kid, I’ve just been miserable being myself. After just one month of meditating, I’ve felt so much energy, it’s amazing how good I feel.” – Geoff, prison inmate serving life sentence


Around 2 ¼ million people are incarcerated in the United States. Prison is a very stressful and difficult environment for most prisoners. This is compounded by the fact that most do not have well developed coping skills. In addition, many have suffered from trauma, often experienced early in life such as abandonment, hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, bullying, discrimination, drug and alcohol abuse, and witnessing crime – including murder. In addition, prisoners frequently suffer from attention deficit disorder.


Prisoners are often ill equipped to engage positively in society either inside or outside of prison. Even though prisons are euphemistically labelled correctional facilities very little correction actually occurs. This is supported by the rates of recidivism. About three quarters of prisoners who are released commit crimes and are sent back to prison within 5-years. Hence there is a great need for better prison programs that can not only help the prisoner adjust to prison life but also to life after release


Prison provides a great deal of time for reflection and self-exploration. This provides an opportunity for growth and development. Contemplative practices are well suited to this environment. Meditation teaches skills that may be very important for prisoners. In particular, it puts the practitioner in touch with their own bodies and feelings. It improves present moment awareness and helps to overcome rumination about the past and negative thinking about the future. It’s been shown to be useful in the treatment of the effects of trauma and attention deficit disorder. It also relieves stress and improves overall health and well-being. Finally, meditation has been shown to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, and anger.


So, meditation would appear to be well suited to addressing the issues of prisoners. In today’s Research News article “). Reduced Trauma Symptoms and Perceived Stress in Male Prison Inmates through the Transcendental Meditation Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Nidich and colleagues recruited prisoners and randomly assigned them to either meditation or no treatment groups. Transcendental meditation was taught in 5 1-hour sessions in a group format and the prisoners were encouraged to practice for an additional 20 minutes per day. The prisoners were measured before training and 4 months later for trauma symptoms and perceived stress.


It was reported that compared to the no-treatment control group, the meditation group had moderate to large significant improvements in perceived stress and in total trauma symptoms, including the anxiety, depression, dissociation, and sleep disturbance resulting from trauma. In interpreting these results, it should be noted that there was not an active or placebo control group. So, the effects cannot be conclusively attributed to meditation as any active treatment might have produced similar improvements. In addition, since prisoners are isolated and restricted, any attention provided them may have had powerful effects. This being said, the findings are exciting and suggest the meditation training is a powerful treatment for the trauma symptoms and stress evident in prison populations.


A large proportion of the prison population have experienced trauma and it is thought that the effects of these experiences have profoundly affected these individuals and their behavior. The ability of meditation to mitigate the effects of trauma and reduce stress make it ideal for the treatment of prisoners. It remains for future research to determine the long-term effects of meditation practice on these prisoners, their behavior in prison and after release, and their likelihood of committing new offenses.


So, relieve trauma symptoms and stress in prisoners with meditation.


“I’ve known inmates who have, as a result of their meditation practice, move from being violent streetfighters to gentle protectors of weaker prisoners. I’ve seen inmates develop an extraordinary amount of patience with exceedingly trying circumstances. I’ve seen seemingly macho men show a tender concern for others. In short, I’ve seen people who have committed some of the most serious crimes possible — people that some might describe as “animals” or “beyond hope” — becoming better people.” – Bodhipaksa


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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Study Summary

Nidich, S., O’Connor, T., Rutledge, T., Duncan, J., Compton, B., Seng, A., & Nidich, R. (2016). Reduced Trauma Symptoms and Perceived Stress in Male Prison Inmates through the Transcendental Meditation Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Permanente Journal, 20(4), 43–47.



Context: Trauma events are four times more prevalent in inmates than in the general public and are associated with increased recidivism and other mental and physical health issues.

Objective: To evaluate the effects of Transcendental Meditationa (TM) on trauma symptoms in male inmates.

Design: One hundred eighty-one inmates with a moderate- to high-risk criminal profile were randomly assigned to either the TM program or to a usual care control group.

Main Outcome Measures

The Trauma Symptom Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale were administered at baseline and four-month posttest.

Results: Significant reductions in total trauma symptoms, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and sleep disturbance subscales, and perceived stress in the TM group were found compared with controls (all p values < 0.001). The high-trauma subgroup analysis further showed a higher magnitude of effects in the TM group compared with controls on all outcomes, with Cohen effect sizes ranging from 0.67 to 0.89.

Conclusion: Results are consistent with those of prior studies of the TM program in other populations and its effects on trauma symptoms and perceived stress.