I along with PYP’s European Program Director Josefin Wikstrom, and the principal researcher for our programs in Europe, Nora Kerkes, were invited to make a presentation at the UK Parliament’s House of Lords for a special convening on Yoga in Society: Yoga in the Criminal Justice System. This is part of an ongoing Parliamentarian program where different issues in UK society are discussed, researched, and given support by members of the House of Lords.
Heather Mason of the Minded Institute of London serves as the Secretarial for the Parliamentary group on Yoga in Society, and the Honorable Lords Andrew Stone, Ben Bradshaw, and Jonathan Lord, co-chairs for it, were present for the presentation. Several other organizations providing yoga for UK-incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated individuals gave presentations. We were the lead presenters.
In Heather’s introduction to our convening, she stated the following:
The National Centre for Clinical Excellence in the UK estimates that up to 76% of people in prison who are remanded and sentenced have mental health problems. A parliamentary report investigating mental health stats from 2021-2022 reported that on average 70% of people in prison present with one or more mental health issues. And female inmates have especially high levels of PTSD. Often, it is the overall social context and the related mental health problems that underscore criminal and violent activity; this is why in so many countries a focus is on rehabilitation and not merely punishment.
The UK is far more advanced in its understanding of trauma and how it affects the overall health of its citizens. The staff of their National Health Service (NHS) are educated and trained in trauma-informed treatment, and it is standard that a multitude of services for mental health and substance abuse issues be offered to communities. This extends to their prison system as well and is recognized as integral to providing meaningful rehabilitation for incarcerated people.
Prison Yoga Project was chosen to conduct trauma-informed yoga training for the physical education staff of the UK’s Prison System – His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Services (HMPPS). I, Josefin, and our UK Program Coordinator Geoff O’Meara have conducted three trainings since 2021 and trainings will ramp up in the coming months. We’ve been asked to conduct another four trainings by mid-2024. Additionally, we have taught four public trainings for yoga teachers in the UK since 2017. We are in the process of completing a partnership with UK Urban Yogis for whom we have trained their facilitators to offer trauma-informed yoga practices to youth. The work that we have been conducting and our trauma-informed reputation resulted in us being asked to present at the House of Lords.
We are always grateful to have opportunities to serve people impacted by incarceration, we feel especially privileged to be able to do this work around the world.