A high-security prison is encouraging inmates to watch nature videos -- and it's changing their behaviour

Researchers from the American Psychological Association might have found a way to suppress violent behaviour in high-security prisons. Surprisingly, one part of the answer to solving behavioural problems could involve showing inmates nature videos — or at least that’s what preliminary evidence from a small pilot study suggests.

Dr. Patricia H. Hasbach, a psychotherapist and faculty member at Lewis and Clark College who led the research, noted that nature is necessary for physical and psychological well-being. And although most American inmates can’t spend time actually out in nature, getting that indirect contact via video is enough to provide some relief to psychological stress.

In order to test how this might work in the prison system, Hasbach and other researchers studied inmates at The Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon for an entire year. Half of a 42-person cell block was shown nature videos (images of oceans, the sky, a fireplace, etc.) during their three to four hours of indoor recreation time each week, while the other half wasn’t. All the prisoners involved in the research were in solitary confinement.

The research team then conducted inmate surveys and interviews, and presented their findings on August 5. They found that negative emotions like aggression, distress, irritability, and nervousness were all reduced for several hours after the nature videos were viewed.

Prison guards even noticed a difference in the inmates’ behaviours and have started using the method as an intervention when they think an inmate is about to act out. Nature videos are now being shown in other parts of the prison, as well.

“We found that inmates who watched the nature videos committed 26 per cent fewer violent infractions,” said Hasbach, in a statement. “This is equivalent to 13 fewer violent incidents over the year, a substantial reduction in real world conditions, since nearly all such events result in injuries to inmates or officers.”

Hasbach and her research team are hoping that this method can be used in the future at other institutions to improve inmate mentality and reduce prison violence, but much more research is needed on more varied populations of prisoners.

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