Yoga could reduce Mississippi inmates’ stress, couple says

Published 9:45 am Monday, September 24, 2018

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi couple with business connections to The Trump Organization says yoga could relieve stress in prisons.

Dinesh and Parveen Chawla propose teaching yoga, meditation and breathing techniques to Mississippi inmates. They say the classes could help inmates control anger, and that could help keep people from later returning to prison.

The couple spoke Tuesday at the Greenwood Rotary Club, the Greenwood Commonwealth reported.

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Dinesh Chawla is CEO of Chawla Hotels, the largest lodging company in the Mississippi Delta. The chain agreed in 2017 to work with The Trump Organization to develop a hotel in Cleveland, Mississippi, the city where the Chawlas live.

Parveen Chawla said she has been teaching yoga at the Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility. The couple would like to expand the all-volunteer program into the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

The program developed by the International Association for Human Values uses yoga, meditation and breathing techniques to manage stress and control anger. The Chawlas said it has helped reduce the rate of recidivism — the return to prison — in two dozen countries.

“It’s not something new,” Parveen Chawla said. “In Mississippi, it’s definitely new.”

If the program expands to Parchman, Parveen Chawla and other instructors would work with 300 inmates who are under 23-hour lockdown — “the hardest of the hard-core,” Dinesh Chawla said.

If they can reduce the recidivism rate in line with other places where this program has been tried, the savings in corrections costs — based on the estimated cost of $16,000 per year to house an inmate — would be more than $900,000, Dinesh Chawla said.

“That’s 30 to 1, folks,” he said. “Pretty good. Even at a casino, that’s good.”

He said prison conditions are dehumanizing, leaving people ill-equipped to find employment when they are released, or to keep a job if they find one. The Pew Charitable Trusts , which has worked with Mississippi lawmakers to try to improve the prison system, said in 2013 that nearly one-third of nonviolent offenders in the state return to prison within three years after being released.

By changing how people deal with conflict and setbacks, that cycle can be broken, Dinesh Chawla said.

“If these folks are able to get out of prison and stay out of prison, not only do we save that $16,000 per person, but they become taxpayers,” he said. “They contribute to the kitty rather than draining it.”

A legislative watchdog group says Mississippi already has several programs that try to reduce recidivism, including vocational education, job training and treatment for abuse of drugs and alcohol