Prison SMART (Stress Management And Rehabilitation Training) is a unique rehabilitation program for inmates. By effectively transforming the mindsets, attitudes and behaviors, Prison SMART aims to break the cycle of re-offending in our society.
Through advanced breathing techniques, physical exercise, knowledge and skills training, prisoners become more aware of themselves, are able to let go of negative emotions, accumulated stress and destructive behaviour, and are empowered to take responsibility for their lives. Started in 1992 in the US, Prison SMART has developed into a globally recognised program implemented in 50+ countries and has benefited more than 250,000 prisoners and staff.
Prison SMART is a holistic program that offers innovative and effective tools to reduce the rate of recidivism, offer the possibility of genuine rehabilitation to offenders, heal the victims, and improve the performance of law enforcement personnel. It is a first of its kind program to break the cycles of violence in society and prevent more violence.
At a time when prison budgets in many countries are under pressure due to the financial crisis, Prison SMART offers an efficient alternative at a lower cost than many other therapies.
The program effectively changes the thinking and behaviour of prisoners. By calming the mind and reducing the impact of stress, also anger, depression, violence, and dysfunctional behaviour are reduced. Offenders become more able and willing to strive for improvement, and become more receptive to other forms of rehabilitation. They are empowered while they are in prison and prepared with some essential life skills for when they are released. When offenders are less stressed, they become easier to look after, as such reducing the burden on the prison staff. By supporting genuine rehabilitation, Prison SMART courses are also believed to reduce recidivism rates.
Present In the UK, Prison SMART has run successfully in Highdown prison for the last 9 years and occasionally in few other prisons.
In 2013 IAHV UK set up a pilot project in Thameside prison, London - still ongoing. In partnership with Turning Point, IAHV UK offered 1 course for staff and 6 courses for prisoners. For the first course, which was totally unknown at that time, only 7 participants showed up. However, their extremely positive experience started a word of mouth chain which soon culminated into fully booked courses and constant waiting lists. The groups were very varied, from all ethnic, social and religious backgrounds, youngsters and elderly people, with mental problems and illnesses, drug abuse and the most varied sentences. It is apparently remarkable in this environment to have 100% of the participants liking the course and giving such positive feedback.
Past Since 2004 around 350 prisoners have been trained in the UK, namely in -Les Nicolles State Prison in Guernsey, -HM Prison Lindholme in Doncaster area and -Highdowne Prison in Surrey.
During the first ever Prison SMART training in the UK at HM Prison Lindholme in 2004, both inmates and staff agreed that the training does meet the expectations of an efficient rehabilitation program. The prison chaplains supported the training and expressed their interest in attending, and also the prison staff requested a program to be conducted for them. References Mr. D. Clark, Principal Officer, States Prison, Guernsey “I have had nothing but positive feedback from prisoners saying how useful they found the week and how much they enjoyed the course.” Rev. J. Mc Cready, Chaplain, HMP Lindholme Prison, Doncaster “The courses have proven popular with a number of inmates. The course leaders are very professional in their approach. I would be pleased to welcome another course in the chaplaincy area.”
“I’ve learned to look within myself and not react so aggressively to things I don’t agree with. I have begun to smile again!” -Alena, Russian prison
“Since being at the course I’ve managed to focus on life ahead of me and how to control my stresses and anger. Also how to forget about the negative that’s happened in my life and focus on the positive.” -Course Participant, 2010
“I enjoyed every aspect of the course very much. I feel I have learned a lot about breathing and how to find joy without the need of substance.The course is very worthwhile in my opinion, and hope it continues. P.S. best thing I’ve done in prison so far, and most useful” -Course Participant, 2010
“Before this course I was afraid of the future, but now we have the feeling that we are also wanted. It is as if the division between criminals and normal citizens has ceased to exist.” - Inmate, India
“This course has shown me a lot. I appreciate myself, my breath and my body. I have thrown out so many negative feelings. It is more than I expected and I enjoyed everything about it” -Course Participant, 2009
“it helps me to operate better, it has even helped my depression. This course should be offered more often, as this is the first help I got for my depression and in conjunction with my meds. I have started to rejoin society.” -Course Participant, 2009
“The role of police officer is one of the most intensely demanding and challenging in the arena of public service. The accruing stress of this profession frequently impacts the physical and emotional health. I took the Art of Living Program to learn some personal stress management tools to support me in my role as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. The techniques are simple, powerful and effective.” -Charles H. Ramsey, Chief of Police, District of Columbia
Prison SMART in Kosovo:
IAHV UK has provided the funding to support an extremely successful series of Prison Smart courses to prison staff and inmates in Kosovo. The first phase of this programme ran in February and March 05. The second phase is running between April and June 2005 extending and expanding the work. Report of the 1st phase of the Kosovo Prison Programme conducted by Snezjna Nisevic, Prison SMART teacher and Vehbi Rafuni President of Art of Living (AOL) Kosovo. The first phase of the project has successfully started at Lipljan Prison in Kosovo, within the period between 14th February and 19th March 2005. Lipljan prison organized 10 AOL workshops in 5 weeks for 186 prison staff and prisoners.
Actual comments and experiences of the course participants show the following:
1.The programme successfully REDUCED CONFLICT and anger in the stressful conditions of the prison.
2.The Prison SMART Programme has provided the prisoners with the opportunity of GENUINE REHABILITATION and a basis for SELF-EMPOWERMENT and increased self-esteem, ultimately leading to a useful life beyond prison and abuse.
3.The Prison Smart Programme has given strength to prison staff as well as coping skills needed to best serve and prevent burn-out.
4.All 10 workshops were MULTI-ETHNIC WORKSHOPS, because Albanian, Serbian and Roma nationals employed in Lipljan prison participated in the training and benefited greatly from the AOL breathing techniques. Their experiences show that the program has helped them to increase focus, life energy and to RE-OPEN CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION and to IMPROVE INTER-ETHNIC DIALOGUE.
At the beginning of each workshop, the Albanian group was sitting on one side of the hall and the Serbs and Roma group on the other side. Every course ended with the sense of belonging and with course participants singing Albanian, Serbian and Roma songs together.
Their relationships improved so much in the warm atmosphere that was created during the course. The Serbs and Roma nationals were always fewer in number, but the Albanians were taking good care of them, and making them feel as part of the group.
5.REDUCED TENSIONS between so called UNIFORMED STAFF (correctional officers) and CIVIL STAFF (administration). The workshops have brought the two groups together and helped them to drop the barriers caused by lack of understanding and lack of communication.
6.WOMEN PRISONERS had the greatest interest and focus on the workshop and gratitude for the knowledge. Their sentences are heavy, from 10 to 32 years of prison. They were so relieved after the breathing exercises and group processes. A young girl sentenced to 19 years of prison said that the course was the best thing in her life and she started to cry because it was the last day of the course. We all started to cry and the atmosphere of trust and love created among the women has continued after the course. A mother of 7 children who killed her husband because he was beating and abusing her, has called her parents to tell them how better and stronger she felt after the course.
7.MENTALY SICK PRISONERS have also participated in special AOL programmes. Correctional officers who have been looking after them, could not believe with their eyes when they saw prisoners sitting patiently and breathing, forgetting about smoking, laughing like children during group processes and feeling lighter and happier.
8.JUVENILE DELINQUENTS have shown the greatest change in behavior after the AOL course. Those who were the most rebellious at the beginning of the course, turned out to be the most cooperative and with the best experiences. The most depressed faces became the brightest ones. A boy who killed his father (his father used to beat him and torture him), was very depressed at the beginning of the course, but after two days, he became one of the most cheerful boys in the group. Again, the correctional officers who work with them, could not believe it when they saw some of the boys being so happy, enthusiastic and friendly.
The prison management in Lipljan prison and the Department of Justice of Kosovo are so happy with the SUCCESS OF THE PROGRAM that they want us to continue with workshops in Lipljan prison and other prisons as well and to involve all those who are interested in taking the AOL training.
The second phase of the Prison Smart project will include continuation of the Prison SMART programmes in Lipljan prison and also the extension of the programmes to other prisons of Kosovo. The continuation of this project depends on the continuation of the financial support and we will be grateful for any help and support that can be given.
Snjezana Nisevic, Prison SMART teacher and AOL Teacher. Vehbi Rafuni, President of AOL Kosovo.