Prison as a Home of Meditation
People, who have been sentenced to imprisonment for whatever crimes they committed, tend to want one thing in common which is spending free time on thinking over all past mistakes in their lives. However, it is undeniable that the physical and mental environment of prisons does not provide inmates with ample opportunity to have their own free time. In fact, inside prisons, time and privacy seem to be taken away from the inmates. Because of this, the inmates might lose a chance to think back on their lives and, therefore, could not change themselves to be the decent human beings who do not exploit and disturb other people.
Prisons in Thailand have adopted an alternate approach to bring calm to the minds of inmates, and to let them start thinking over and learning the mistakes in their lives as well as to change their behaviors to enter a new world. This approach is ‘doing meditation’. Such practice is supported and in accordance with the research by Himelstein (2010) suggesting that the meditation – based programs may be proper treatment programs and may support rehabilitation for correctional populations because they provide sufficient treatment to criminal offenders: the enhancement of psychological well-being, a decrease in substance use, and a decrease in recidivism.
Between 2003 and 2007, meditation and dhamma practice had been introduced to inmates at large with the famous slogan ‘Prison as a House of Dhamma’. It was the application of Buddhism teachings in particular on the mental treatment and rehabilitation of inmates by let them do meditation and dhamma practice, and learn religious principles to understand themselves and live peacefully as well.
Four years after it was firstly introduced in prisons across the country, dhamma lessons have proved useful in calming aggressive behavior, train self-sufficiency and turn lives around for thousands of Thai inmates. Many inmates said that they could have peace in mind by meditation especially when they could be there and sitting still to learn to meditate.
The 4-month motivational course of Department of Corrections named ‘Dhamma Practice Programme: DPP’ which were launched in June 2005, is among a growing list of alternative and diversionary criminal justice programs designed to change the behavior of inmates changes that can lead to less misconduct in prison, fewer repeat offenders and lower prison costs. The aim of the program is to reform the minds of Buddhist inmates in prisons around the country.
At first, the inaugural course supported by the Center for the Promotion and Development of Morality, was designed for 2,250 inmates selected from 10 prisons across the country. However, more inmates expressed their interest in joining the course after the final selection was closed. Finally, 10,700 inmates from 29 prisons and detention centers were chosen to join the program. If the inmates are in the small prisons, they must stop doing their activities in order to attend the full 4-month course. Accordingly, prison visits by family members are also halted during this period. In fact, the correctional officers in these prisons also stop working and attend the dhamma course. Accordingly, there is a normal scene that all people in those prisons are wearing white clothes for mediation for many weeks. Contrastingly, in large prisons, participants are divided into small, medium and large groups of between 70 and 250 persons. Non participations continue their routine work and activities while their colleagues attend the dhamma course.
In 2006, the Department of Corrections has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with 8 organizations to support the DPP which are Maha Dhera Association, Maha Chulalongkorn Buddhism College, Maha Makut Rachavitayalai Buddhism College, Wat Sai Ngam Meditation Center, Department of Religions, The Office of National Buddhism, the Center for Ethical Power Promotion and Development and the Center for Ethics Promotion of the Office of Civil Service Commission.
As for the program, it starts with a short orientation by trainers, followed by an opening ceremony before participants don their white dresses in a semi-ordination ritual. Apart from the normal dhamma lessons, the inmates can learn to meditate while sitting, standing, walking and lying down. It is hoped that the program, tailored for long-term inmates, can change the culture of prison inmates by reducing violence and tension, especially in young inmates who have just been admitted to the prison system.
The evaluation of each training course has been done by many agencies, for example, the Department of Corrections, the participating prisons and detention centers, the Ministry of Justice, The Office of National Buddhism, the Centre for the Promotion and Development of Morality and National Solidarity, Sai-ngarm Temple in Suphanburi and other temples where participating prisons are located. Obviously, many inmates who were enrolled in the first dhamma course all agree that participation in the DPP helped them become calmer because they can control their anger and find the right way to deal with it.
Himelstein, S. (2010) Meditation Research: the State of the Art in Correctional Settings, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, Sage Publications.
It is wondeful to read about meditation programs in Thailand's prisons. Similar programs in UK and US have some successes. Is there any follow-up on 'lapse back to crimes' (recidivism)? It would be good to know that the programs do have long last effects outside prisons.
Of course, such programs could/should be used outside prisons, to stop/prevent people falling into crimes and prisons in the first place.
Thank you so much for your comment krab Khun SR. Unfortunately, I must say that there has not been any follow-up study of the recidivism among DPP participating inmates. Regarding the re-offending or recidivism of inmates released from prisons, it could be caused by many factors, both controllable and uncontrollable. I totally agree that the follow-up study will be very useful for all parties involved in the program. I will pass your constructive suggestion on to the Department of Corrections na krab.