Sunday 11 December 2016

Ireland's most dangerous criminals now being taught mindfulness as part of their rehabilitation

Published 28/02/2016 | 02:30

CALMING: Meditation work
CALMING: Meditation work

Ireland's most dangerous criminals are being taught 'mindfulness' techniques as part of their rehabilitation therapy.

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Sex offenders, convicted murderers, drug dealers, and gangland chiefs are all included in a vetting process to determine their suitability.

The aim is to give criminals more insight into their emotions, improve behaviour and help them integrate with other prisoners.

The classes involve 'role-play' games, with inmates encouraged to discuss feelings which provoke anxiety attacks and violent outbursts.

A Freedom of Information request provided to the Sunday Independent reveal that over 360 prisoners have enrolled in mindfulness courses over the past five years.

The scheme is run by the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) Ireland, a non-governmental organisation, which provides an intensive range of prison workshops. The prison service provided funding of €14,000 to AVP in 2014.

The stress-reduction and mindfulness lessons are currently available to inmates in Cloverhill, Wheatfield, Shelton, Mountjoy and Cork prisons.

However, only a select number of the prison population are invited to take part.

At the beginning of their sentence, each prisoner undergoes a rigorous medical and psychological assessment, by trained specialists.

The Prison Service then determines suitable candidates for the mindfulness programme, based on their "psychological needs".

Highly volatile prisoners with the "most pressing needs" are given priority.

The mindfulness-based stress-reduction programme - embracing the most up-to-date psychological guidelines - is derived from a 2,400-year-old Buddhist meditation tradition.

Weekend workshops, which generally run from Friday night until Sunday, have, on average, 15 to 18 participants.

New figures reveal that 364 prisoners took part in mindfulness-based 'group interventions' in the past five years.

A total of 291 convicts took part in lessons in the Mountjoy complex, Ireland's largest prison. A further 23 inmates availed of courses in Cloverhill, Wheatfield and Shelton.

The remaining 50 were from Cork Prison.

The AVP group also works with inmates in the Dochas Centre, a medium-security prison for women.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that yellow, green, and pink, are three colour codes used in Mountjoy Prison to identify the prisoners who are part of gangs that cannot mix together.

One prison source said last night: "Violence behind bars is a fact of life."

Sunday Independent

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