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Meditation Can Foster Transformation in Prisoners

Meditation Can Foster Transformation in Prisoners

A new study has found that transcendental meditation reduces trauma symptoms, including anxiety, depression and disturbances in sleep, in prison inmates.

According to researchers, prisoners have one of the highest rates of trauma of any segment of society, with recent surveys showing that 85 percent have been a victim of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion, or physical or sexual abuse.

Trauma is also associated with higher rates of recidivism — returning to prison — and mental and physical health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

That led researchers to try to find a remedy for the high rates of trauma amount prisoners.

The study found that after four months of implementing a transcendental meditation (TM) technique, inmates at two prisons in Oregon had significantly reduced trauma symptoms, as well as a significant decrease in perceived stress.

According to the study, published in The Permanente Journal, the prisoners who were in the TM group had a 47 percent reduction in total trauma symptoms over the course of the study.

Further analysis showed an even higher magnitude of effect due to TM practice in those with the highest level of trauma symptoms, according to the researchers. A 56 percent reduction was found within the TM group for those above the mean in baseline trauma scores.

The study was conducted at the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary, located in Salem, Oregon. A total of 181 moderate- to high-risk inmates were assigned to either the meditation group or a non-meditating control group, with all subjects continuing with their standard of care.

Participants were assessed using two standardized instruments: The Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale. After four months of practicing meditation, the inmates in the TM treatment group exhibited significant reductions in total trauma symptoms, anxiety, depression, dissociation and sleep disturbance subscales, and perceived stress.

Compliance with TM practice was high, according to the researchers. Of the prisoners who learned the TM program, 88 percent completed the initial seven-step TM course — a total of five sessions — and more than 80 percent were regular with their daily TM practice over the course of the four-month study.

“I have watched inmates learn transcendental meditation and become more human after a long and isolating period of becoming less human,” said study co-author Dr. Tom O’Conner, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Western Oregon University. “TM helps to awaken, deepen, and solidify the kind of transformational process that we so badly need in our overburdened and costly correctional system.”

“Previous published studies have shown that Transcendental Meditation decreases hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, responsible for such processes as the ‘fight or flight response,’” said Dr. Sanford Nidich of the Maharashi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

“These kinds of changes from an overly aroused style of functioning to a more healthy, stable condition of physiological functioning may help explain how TM practice reduces trauma symptoms. Brain imaging studies and other psychophysiological research have shown that TM meditators have less reactivity to stressful stimuli, further indicating a more stable and balanced style of functioning.”

Source: Maharishi University of Management 
Photo: A randomized controlled trial of 181 male Oregon state correctional inmates found that the Transcendental Meditation program significantly decreased total trauma symptoms (approximately 45 percent reduction), anxiety, depression, dissociation and sleep disturbance subscales, and perceived stress compared to controls over a four-month period. Trauma symptoms and perceived stress were assessed using the Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale. Credit: Maharishi University of Management.

Meditation Can Foster Transformation in Prisoners

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Meditation Can Foster Transformation in Prisoners. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 8 Oct 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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