A man named Sheetal Kawale became the first beneficiary of an initiative by the government of Maharashtra, India, for convicts to earn reduced sentences by completing a yoga program.
Kawale knocked 40 days off his sentence for raping a relative by scoring high marks on a yoga test held earlier this year, according to the Times of India. Another yoga test will be administered this coming October.
Prison superintendent Yogesh Desai said over a hundred inmates have qualified for this “time off for good yoga” plan, but Kawale and one other convict were granted their reduced sentences first because they were close to the end of their original sentences.
The Inspector General of prisons, Bhushan Upadhyaya, hastened to add that reduced sentences for yoga proficiency were “not applicable to convicts of terror charges, and those held guilty in narcotics crime.”
The Times of India reports that others who have since earned reduced sentences are two who “got seven years under the charge of voluntary [sic] causing hurt with a dangerous weapon,” plus four convicted for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder,” and two who were “convicted separately for rape and graft.”
The yoga program for convicts is said to be part of the Indian government’s initiative to promote personal discipline and respect for traditions. It is not a new idea; in 2010, ABC News reported on a similar program in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where yoga was hailed as a highly successful means of helping prisoners control anger and manage stress.
The notion of earning reduced sentences with yoga training also is not limited to India. In March 2012, for example, a Colorado man was given a sentencing break on a drug conviction by taking yoga courses in prison.
The Washington State Department of Corrections has also emphasized yoga as a healthy activity for prisoners, enlisting the help of a Seattle non-profit organization called Yoga Behind Bars. Prisoners selected for the pilot program were given 100 hours of training then sent back to lead yoga classes for other inmates.
In this case, the convicts involved were serving long sentences for serious crimes, and there was no discussion of reduced sentences for yoga proficiency. However, it was hoped yoga would lead to reduced stress and a better environment in the prison. The program was described as popular enough to have lengthy waiting lists for participation in yoga classes.