By Sharon Simpson, Stewart Mercer, Robert Simpson, Maggie Lawrence, Sally Wyke
Youth offending is a problem worldwide. Young people in the criminal justice system have frequently experienced adverse childhood circumstances, mental health problems, difficulties regulating emotions and poor quality of life. Mindfulness-based interventions can help people manage problems resulting from these experiences, but their usefulness for youth offending populations is not clear. This review evaluated existing evidence for mindfulness-based interventions among such populations. To be included, each study used an intervention with at least one of the three core components of mindfulness-based stress reduction (breath awareness, body awareness, mindful movement) that was delivered to young people in prison or community rehabilitation programs. No restrictions were placed on methods used. Thirteen studies were included: three randomized controlled trials, one controlled trial, three pre-post study designs, three mixed-methods approaches and three qualitative studies. Pooled numbers (n = 842) comprised 99% males aged between 14 and 23. Interventions varied so it was not possible to identify an optimal approach in terms of content, dose or intensity. Studies found some improvement in various measures of mental health, self-regulation, problematic behaviour, substance use, quality of life and criminal propensity. In those studies measuring mindfulness, changes did not reach statistical significance. Qualitative studies reported participants feeling less stressed, better able to concentrate, manage emotions and behaviour, improved social skills and that the interventions were acceptable. Generally low study quality limits the generalizability of these findings. Greater clarity on intervention components and robust mixed-methods evaluation would improve clarity of reporting and better guide future youth offending prevention programs.