Can Yoga Keep Convicted Criminals From Returning to Jail?

DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann thinks yoga might help keep convicted criminals from returning to jail after release.

When he took the reigns as Sheriff in 2014, staff told him they were seeing too many individuals return to jail after completing their sentences. In April 2015, Mann and his staff launched the Options for Living and Learning Program. Mann hopes the series of classes will affect changes in patterns of inmate thought and behavior through exposure to positive, constructive options.

Colleen Cumerford of Kashi Atlanta Ashram teaches what she calls “Karma Yoga,” which is the practice of giving back. She says, “There are no throwaway people. So, one of the things I love about coming to the jail is being able to connect with people that are maybe more on the outside of society. You find this ability to reach them and connect with them.” She says she hopes to help inmates deal with whatever they have done that brought them to jail and through Yoga, change bad patterns.

This is what Sheriff Mann is banking on. He says, “Hopefully, we will see fewer of the folks coming back into the facility and providing them with better options, better thinking skills, better judgment skills, critical thinking…hopefully, this will benefit them long after they’re released.”

The program is open to male and female inmates convicted of misdemeanors and felonies. Classes run for eight weeks. Some instructors are paid and some are volunteers. Inmates provide feedback and their comments are used to develop upcoming classes.

These are the classes currently offered:

Game Your Brain! (Monday) Sudoku, crosswords, math games

Write Now! (Tuesday) poems, stories, letters

Reading Circle (Wednesday) short stories and books with discussion sessions

How Do I...? (Thursday) daily life skills, applying for jobs, replacing personal records

Get Smarter (Friday) different ways of thinking and understanding

Yoga (Saturday) yoga, stretching and meditative positions