At Chelan County Regional Jail in Wenatchee, Wash., some inmates are getting a new kind of life-skills training. As part of a study from Washington State University, male inmates learned yoga and better parenting techniques all at once. 

The program, conducted with 112 inmates at the facility over the course of several years, is called "Fit Fathers, Successful Families, Inside and Out,” and focuses on helping people be more flexible both physically and mentally. The 12-session program was designed to help incarcerated fathers of young children become more resilient and effective parents. A new study in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion [PDF] finds that the program seems to be an effective way to improve paternal involvement and parent-child relationships after release. 

The two-hour sessions started with parenting classes, then moved into yoga and mindfulness training. The parenting instructor participated in yoga, and vice versa. The participants filled out surveys before and after the program to assess their compassion, tolerance for difficult emotions and feelings, and other aspects of psychological resiliency necessary for positive parenting skills. The survey also tested the inmates on the child development concepts taught in the class.

The fathers who went through the program demonstrated knowledge of the positive parenting practices taught in class, and also reported having more compassion toward themselves and greater self-knowledge. The test results indicate that yoga and mindfulness can help inmates become more self-aware and more resilient against psychological distress—hopefully helping them become more patient and compassionate parents. 

While this study wasn’t particularly rigorous—there was no control group to test how much of the results came from the parenting class alone—it’s part of a greater trend towards alternative therapies to boost prisoners’ mental health. Some facilities allow inmates to adopt cats as a way to reduce aggression. Some allow inmates to train shelter dogs. Others run meditation programs aimed at reducing recidivism. 

"I believe the yoga practice helped participants become ready to learn and increased their willingness to try new ideas, absorb new information and begin to apply these in their lives,” Jennifer Crawford, the lead researcher, said in a press release

All images by Washington State University