Collaborative Writers: Matthew Dalinka, Lily Frank, Alex Jacobson, and Shannon Lamb
Many mental health issues and learning difficulties can contribute to adolescents ending up in the juvenile justice system. These issues are often overlooked and not accounted for in incarcerated individuals, which can be incredibly harmful. Mental health affects how one functions, behaves, and acts due to emotional dysregulation. In our adolescent years, our brains are in a stage where they are constantly growing and changing. They are considered to be incredibly malleable, and as a result, the brain needs to be looked after very carefully at this time.
Some mental health illnesses children experience today are anxiety, depression, attention-deficit disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Due to the lack of resources available to children, especially in lower-income areas, many can experience a worsening in their illness during adolescence, leading to time in juvenile detention centers. The relationship between mental health and the juvenile justice system has often failed to have been recognized, and the juvenile justice system must incorporate strategies and implementations to protect the well-being and sanity of the children. Unfortunately, being in these detention centers only worsens mental health. Researchers Hovey, Zolkoski, and Bullock found that “approximately 65-75 percent of the detainees in the juvenile justice system experience one or more mental health issues”. This is why there need to be immediate efforts to focus on this problem.
Yeah!Yoga is a nonprofit that is an ideal representation of bridging this gap and providing resources to the youth incarcerated. This organization was started in 2017 to provide yoga programs to children and young adults aged between eleven and twenty-four, and focuses on sharing the tools of meditation and yoga with youth involved with or impacted by the carceral system. Their main goal is to care for teenagers’ physical and mental health while building their resilience and self-esteem. What is unique about this organization is that it promotes being calm through the acquisition of meditation and mindfulness techniques. Overwhelming emotions include stress, anxiety, and depression. Based on extensive research, the brain has been found to not develop fully until around the age of twenty, so the period in which it is crucial to nurture the youth concerning mental health is the age range focused upon by the organization. Young children are taught mindfulness and yoga in youth-secured facilities, including detention centers and jails. Yeah!Yoga creates a unique way of trying to enhance the kids’ lives and mentality. By providing these children with the tools to cope with mental health challenges, they are bettering their lives and implementing a change in their behavior. What is essential to add regarding Yeah!Yoga is that it provides lower-class children with resources they would not typically encounter. Unfortunately, many adolescents born into lower-class homes tend to have fewer resources available, leading to increased rates of incarceration. These young children struggle with mental health and do not have any resources to help improve their symptoms. Thankfully, this nonprofit shares its resources and makes them available to those less fortunate.
Yeah! Yoga and other diversion programs offer juveniles the opportunity to address their social-emotional needs and protect them from interacting with the criminal justice system in which they can become ensnared. These diversion programs change the lives of many juveniles for the better through processes that are not as dehumanizing as the prison system. The rehabilitative approach in correctional facilities has become very popular in response to pre-delinquent and delinquent juveniles. There are specific programs designed to help carry out therapeutic evaluations and provide services that help adjust problems, such as mental health therapy, hoping it will help juveniles by the end of the program. Yeah!Yoga provides a comprehensive model of a therapeutic diversion program that aims to reduce the number of juvenile offenders in the carceral system or who have been affected by the system. Through the mindfulness approach Yeah!Yoga implements, they allow for youth to focus on meditation practices that will hopefully help manage overwhelming emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression to support them in ending the cycle of incarceration.
For more information, visit https://www.yeahyoga.org or follow @say.yeah.yoga on Instagram