5 Groups Working To Improve The Lives Of Incarcerated People

The daily lives of incarcerated individuals are often violent and hopeless, with some people being imprisoned for an extended amount of time even before trial. Fortunately, there are organizations advocating for better policies and preparing inmates for reintegration into society. In no particular order, here are some groups working to reduce recidivism and improve the living conditions for prisoners.

First up, at #1, we have Yoga Behind Bars. Founded in 2008, it is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing trauma-informed yoga and meditation to jails, prisons, and detention centers in order to promote rehabilitation and contribute to the reform of the corrections system. Each week, its team of volunteer instructors and incarcerated teachers offer instruction at various facilities throughout Washington.

Using its specialized curriculum, the organization's programs focus on restorative practices that facilitate stress management and resilience. Its youth initiatives aim to reduce the likelihood of future incarceration and to address trauma stemming from early adverse childhood experiences.

Next, at #2, is the Appalachian Prison Book Project, which aims to address the issue of mass incarceration by providing educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals. The organization creates book clubs inside prisons where men and women can discuss and write about literature; facilitators also lead creative writing workshops.

The organization's volunteers respond to letters from people in prison who are looking for material to read. It mails free books to the incarcerated at facilities across various states, including West Virginia, Tennessee, and Ohio. The books are eventually donated to prison libraries for ongoing use.

Taking the #3 spot is New Leash on Life USA, which is dedicated to saving at-risk shelter dogs while also reducing recidivism through a training program that teaches practical life- and social-emotional skills. According to the organization, participants gain a sense of responsibility by caring for their canine companions; they also complete job readiness courses in preparation for reentry after prison.

Every week, NLOL participants attend dog training sessions with certified trainers, veterinarians, and vet technicians. Its post-release program comes with weekly group meetings and individual case management, as well as 60 days of paid internships and access to a career clothing closet and food pantry.

At #4, we have the Texas Jail Project, which seeks to empower incarcerated individuals in county jails by lifting their voices through stories, testimonies, and community building. Its website offers a wide variety of resources for families navigating the criminal justice system, including tips on visitation and guides explaining how to advocate for an incarcerated loved one experiencing mental illness.

For the first time ever, Texas county jails will be required to report on how they care for pregnant inmates – to 'fess up about food, bedding, and medical care. That's thanks to hard work by the Texas Jail Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman. The three groups joined forces to protect pregnant mothers in county jails this legislative session by helping get HB 1140 passed. The law requires accountability, transparency, and solid data to improve the lives of mamas behind bars.

Among its initiatives is to advocate on behalf of pregnant inmates, proposing various laws in response to complaints about inadequate food and the lack of medical care in jails. The group also seeks to publicize the negative effects of pretrial detention, including how it disproportionately affects people of color.

Finally, at #5, we have the Sustainability in Prisons Project. It is a statewide effort that seeks to bring nature, science, and environmental education into prisons through various courses, workshops, and programs. Among its offerings is Roots of Success, an environmental curriculum that equips students with the skills necessary to work in the green economy.

Since 2009, the organization has produced a lecture and workshop series in multiple prisons covering topics such as climate change, energy and biofuels, composting, and native plant identification. During these workshops, students get to ask questions, participate in a variety of hands-on activities, or examine specimens.