Can Court Mandated Yoga and Meditation Keep Kids Out of Prison?

The Lineage Project is helping rehabilitate incarcerated and troubled youth by teaching them skills like meditation and yoga.

The Lineage Project’s mission is to keep young people, ages 11 to 24, out of the juvenile/criminal justice system in the United States. Our innovative program model uses Awareness-Based Practices (ABP), which includes yoga, meditation, and life skills training, as a positive means of intervention.

These practices offer tools to decrease impulsive behaviors that lead youth toward incarceration, prepare them to become functioning members of society, and enable them to act as role models for other young people in their communities.

A 60 minute Lineage class begins with an opening circle. Participants are introduced to the theme for the day. Themes for group dialogue focus on concepts that can be taken off the mat and applied to everyday challenges, such as perseverance, self-acceptance, positive thinking, courage and responsibility. A brief discussion of the theme is then followed by teaching practical breathing and meditation techniques and basic, fun yoga or Tai-Chi movements. The class ends with a closing circle. Youth are encouraged to think about how the meditation and movements they have just learned could be helpful in everyday life. Bringing consistent attention to this level of consciousness, troubled youth can begin to break habitual patterns of action and reaction, and become empowered to make positive choices for their future.
Miguel, age 23, has taken weekly classes since November, 2012 and will be given a full scholarship to attend our upcoming 20 hour training workshop.

Miguel was raised in Brooklyn, the most populous and second poorest borough in NYC. In Bedford Stuyvesant, for example, the concentrated poverty rate rose from 38.0 percent in 2000 to 43.2 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Having committed a felony as a young adult, Miguel could have been spending this year in jail or prison. Instead, he attends a day program—a court-mandated alternative to incarceration where Lineage has offered classes for the past five years. Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs are for defendants charged with felony-level offenses who would otherwise be facing jail or prison time. At sentencing, a judge reviews risk factors and in some situations may determine that defendants can stay in their communities, be monitored closely by the courts and attend an ATI program for six months to a year. They must attend individual and group counseling to practice the values and skills needed to maintain crime-free lives. Those who complete their program successfully always receive sentences that require no incarceration.

Mandated to spend six months at the community program, Miguel chose to attend our classes as one of the required group sessions. Lineage’s model meets the court’s definition of “anger management” classes. “It changed my life,” Miguel reflected enthusiastically. After the first class he remembers, “I never thought I could feel what I felt afterwards.” The class “released a lot of tension in my body. It helped me tune into myself, changed my awareness of my surroundings. I felt as if I had finally come home.”

He had never done yoga or meditation before. Recognizing his growing interest, our teacher encouraged him to lead part of a class. “I was surprised. People listened to me. They let me help them take care of themselves. It turned out good. Afterwards people in the class came up to me and said I had a calm, soothing voice. It helped them chill out.” Miguel now wants to be trained in Lineage’s curriculum so he can bring it back to others in his community. He realizes that old patterns of negative responses have been transformed to positive ones through the simple tools he can take with him anywhere.

Miguel will successfully finish his court ordered time in early April. He will do so as a young man who has left his past behind and found a new path forward. He remains very grateful to The Lineage Project’s program.

We’re challenging the GOOD community to commit our time to service. Go here to pledge 1 percent of your time—that’s 20 hours—being part of the solution this year.

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