Therapy program tested at Edgecombe County jail aims to soothe, encourage rational decision-making

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TARBORO, N.C. (WNCN) – There’s one room at the Edgecombe County Detention Center that used to be a lineup room. With soothing lights, fountains, and the sound of water, people may forget they’re in a jail.

“The technology has been around a long time, and then the underlying idea of breathing and meditation is an ancient human practice,” said Vichitra Jagannathan with the nonprofit Rural Opportunity Institute. Her organization has partnered with the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office for the program.

Its basic concept is to offer a soothing space and a monitor that reads the variability of a person’s heart rate, which is read by a clip on the ear. A program on a phone can tell a person when to breath deep, when stress levels are elevated, and when it calms down.

“We want to keep people out of jail. We want people to realize and think about their actions before they get here” said Sheriff Clee Atkinson.

The biofeedback program is in the testing stages and is one of the few in nation at a jail. They’re already seeing fewer fights and better communication between inmates and staff.

Atkinson said the goal is to not just calm inmates down, but for them to learn how to use the same techniques when they’re no longer in jail so they’ll stay out of jail. That, in turn, makes a safer community and saves taxpayer money.

“Just take a deep breath and then realize what you’re doing may cost you months, years in jail and prison. This is helping society in the best way possible,” Atkinson said.

The goal is to also make the program available to staff.

“You just clear your mind and just relax,” said one inmate using the program. “And even if it’s just for 10 minutes, it’s still useful throughout a stressful day.”

The technology has been used by athletes for years and is even being used in some schools. The idea to test it in a jail setting came from the community.

“People started to really name, like, ‘We would like to be a community that shifts away from being punitive all the time to being one that provides restoration healing support,'” said Jagannathan.

“We’re in the business of helping people (be) better than how they came to Edgecombe County Detention Facility,” Atkinson added.

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