Male prisoners who meditated daily significantly lowered their stress levels making it less likely they’d return to prison in the future, a study published Oct. 7 in the Permanente Journal found. 

The study set out to evaluate the effects of routine meditation on 90 prisoners at the Oregon State Correctional Institute and the Oregon State Penitentiary. The effects were studied against another group of 91 inmates who didn’t engage in any meditation. Inmates began with a course where they learned the basics of meditation over five sessions. They were then asked to meditate for 20 minutes per day before their trauma symptoms like anxiety, depression, stress, and inability to sleep were measured. Researchers found a signification reduction in all of the above.

Trauma in inmates is four times more common than in the rest of the population, the study reported. Trauma not only wreaks havoc on prisoners’ mental health but is also directly associated with recidivism, or relapse into criminal behavior. That means men who engage in meditation while incarcerated could dramatically reduce their chances of ending up behind bars again in the future.

RTX21EDY A guard tower is seen during a media tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California December 29, 2015. Photo: Reuters

More than half of prisoners relapse after being released and end up back in prison, according to the David Lynch Foundation. The economic cost to incarcerate a single person is estimated to be about $65,000 a year, while the prison population has reached 2.3 million. Spending on jails and prisons has increased steadily over time and has quadrupled in the past 20 years to become the second largest budget in the U.S. By implementing meditation programs in prisons throughout the country, spending on incarceration could drastically decrease while the mental health of prisoners gets better.

Meditation has been taught at other U.S. prisons with similarly positive results. Prisons like San Quentin and Folsom reported a 30 percent drop in recidivism after the implementation of the programs, the David Lynch Foundation found.