GSU to Study Impact of Yoga on Juvenile Offenders

A team of public health specialists led by two professors at Georgia State hopes to establish links between the perceived benefits of yoga with improved outcomes for juvenile offenders over a three-year period.

Dr. Ashli Owen-Smith, an Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy, is the principal investigator of this study, which she said was inspired by her personal experience.

Owen-Smith practices yoga a couple of times per week, and she said she’s not alone.

“There seems to be a growing interest across the country and around the world in how these practices impact the health and well-being [of people],” she said.

In the past, she has worked with veterans with PTSD, who have all benefited from the practice.

“There is some evidence to suggest that [yoga, mindfulness, and meditation] are particularly helpful to people with a history of trauma,” she said.

The ultimate goal of the study is to reduce recidivism among juvenile offenders by providing them with more ways to improve their outcomes upon their release, according to Dr. Owen-Smith.

Recidivism is the tendency for a convicted criminal to re-offend, and the recidivism rate is the likelihood that one convicted of a crime returns to the prison system for committing a new offense.

For Georgia, the statewide recidivism rate for all Georgians is estimated to be around 30 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. But according to the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the rate for juvenile offenders is 65 percent.

Dr. Owen-Smith collaborated with professors across the country, as well as Dr. Matt Hayat, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Public Health. Like Dr. Ashli Owen-Smith, Dr. Hayat’s interest in the study was motivated by his personal interest in what he calls the “Eastern arts,” like yoga and martial arts.

The study also enlisted instructors from Centering Youth, a non-profit yoga service which works with youth in the criminal justice system.

“There have been several last-minute changes requested by the NIH [National Institutes of Health, which is the primary funder of this study],” he said. He was not sure what exactly has been formalized as a study plan.

Dr. Owen-Smith told The Signal that the issue is related to where the best setting for the study can be—whether to collect data from youth in non-intervention facilities or only from those youth in the intervention facilities.

The sample size of the study will include 25 to 35 subjects, who will provide individual feedback on the effectiveness of the yoga classes. The next phase—the primary study—will have a larger sample of 100 to 150 participants and be conducted using any new and improved protocol which may follow.