Houses of Healing Research

Houses of Healing has become an integral part of prison programming in the United States. With more than 200,000 copies in circulation in both English and Spanish, substance abuse and mental health counselors, educators, chaplains, administrators, volunteers and prisoners alike are praising its positive impact. Lionheart has been awarded 8 “Innovative Grants” from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to disseminate and evaluate the Houses of Healing Program in their population.

Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

An Emotional Literacy Intervention with Incarcerated Individuals (2005 and 2006)

By: Robin Casarjian, M.A., Jenny Phillips, Ph.D., and Richard Wolman, Ph.D

Abstract: This article presents the results of an intervention program intended to teach emotional literacy skills to male prisoners currently incarcerated in the Massachusetts prison system. Emotional literacy in this context is the ability to perceive, understand, and communicate emotions within oneself and toward others. Emotional literacy is also consistent with the concept of emotional intelligence introduced by Salovey and Meyer, “Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to monitor one’s feelings and emotions, and to use that information to guide one’s thinking and actions”; and popularized by Goleman. The authors present their analyses of both psychological and behavioral effects of this intervention and discuss possible implications of these findings. The results of this study suggest that the implementation of a 12-week emotional literacy program may produce positive psychological and spiritual changes within a prison population. Participants in the program showed significant positive changes on previously validated scales of depression, hostility, spirituality (specifically mindfulness and community), and alexithymia (emotional numbness). The change in participants’ results on these scales suggests that positive psychological changes occurred over the course of the 12-week program. Qualitative interviews indicate that participants considered the program to be both helpful and important in producing positive change in their lives. In discussing their subjective experiences of the program, participants identified factors that may contribute to its effectiveness. They emphasized the need to confront the central issues of masculinity that frequently becomes accentuated in prison. They also shed light on social patterns and cultural rules in prisons as well as the influence of a group program upon these rules and practices.

Houses of Healing: A Group Intervention for Grieving Women in Prison (2009)

Ginette G. Ferszt, Dawn Salgado, Susanne DeFedele, Mary Leveillee

Abstract: This study provides evidence of positive outcomes from the women’s involvement in the Houses of Healing program. Participants reported improved psychological well-being, increased self-esteem, increased hopefulness, a greater capacity to regulate emotions, and the use of positive coping skills in dealing with stressors. This increased sense of personal empowerment was found in reports of greater personal responsibility and accountability for past behavior, as well as in an increased sense of self-understanding, feelings of self-efficacy and mastery, and competence to meet future demands. Although the sample size for this study was small, significant clinical results warrant further investigation of the effectiveness of this program. “Houses of Healing: A Prisoner’s Guide to Inner Power and Freedom” (Casarjian, 1995) was adapted into a 12-week facilitated course. Participants were taught skills, including relaxation; mediation; cognitive reframing; stress management; and constructive ways to transform anger, resentment, unhealthy guilt, and shame. Attention was also given to life journeys from childhood to prison, including the impact of a lifetime of losses and unresolved grief. Methods used were reading, writing, group discussions, and facilitator-led exercises. The evaluation of the program used a convenience sample of 36 women (21 in the intervention group and 15 in the comparison group) recruited from a northeastern women’s medium-security correctional facility. The study was conducted from September 2004 through July 2, 2005. Semistructured interviews were conducted with program participants at the conclusion of the 12-week program. Instruments were administered to measure depression, self-esteem, spirituality, and anxiety.

Making Good Use of Dead Time: Emotional Learning Programs for Prisoners in Solitary Confinement (2022)

Ann Marie Rocheleau & Shannon Curran

Abstract: Emotional learning (EL) programs have been adopted by correctional facilities due to their positive impacts on social and emotional intelligence in schools. This paper focuses on the promise of the EL program, Houses of Healing (HOH), which California prisoners residing in solitary confinement completed. Survey data from 200 male participants was analyzed. Participant responses reveal prisoners experienced an 83 percent or greater improvement in hopefulness, identifying triggers, handling anger, and ability to remain in control and cope when upset. Frequency of meditation practice and perceived helpfulness of physical exercise correlated with improvement in hopeful feelings and coping abilities.

Houses of Healing Surveys

Two Houses of Healing surveys, one designed for incarcerated individuals and the other for professionals and volunteers who work with them, were mailed to approximately 200 institutions that received 10+ or more copies of the book Houses of Healing (HOH) within a three year period.

The Houses of Healing Professional Survey

43% (86) responded to the survey. The first 55 professionals to return the surveys indicated that, in total, over 7400 incarcerated individuals participated in their groups. Facilitator surveys indicated that:

  • Over 70% have waiting lists for HOH programs
  • 90% indicated that they found HOH highly beneficial in group work.
  • The majority reported that participants engage in fewer physical and verbal altercations with peers; receive fewer rule infractions or punishment in the facility; and have greater concern and involvement with their own children and improving relations with their family.
  • 78% reported that participants have more insight into their offending behavior. They reported that they appear to have heightened resolve regarding doing “the right thing” and staying out of criminal activity after release.

The Houses of Healing Participant Survey 

The participant survey was designed to gather feedback on the perceived impact of the Houses of Healing program on participants. 435 surveys were completed and returned. The vast majority of those incarcerated individuals (for whom the following issues applied) reported that they:

  • Engage in fewer verbal altercations and physical fights
  • Engage in fewer incidents of conflict with authority figures,
  • Receive fewer disciplinary reports
  • Have better anger management and impulse control
  • Are more aware of their emotions
  • Have more insight into their offending behavior
  • Are more involved with their children, and have better family relations.

Houses of Healing In Solitary Confinement:
Self-Study Course Survey Data

In 2015, The Lionheart Foundation created The Houses of Healing One-on-One Correspondence Course for Prisoners in Solitary. The goal of this revised version of the Houses of Healing Program was to offer people in solitary a tool that would help minimize the harmful effects of solitary confinement while teaching skills and perspectives to empower them to take greater charge of their lives, participate in their own emotional well-being and healing, and move forward in a more positive way. Volunteers mailed the sessions to the incarcerated individual they are matched with and offer encouragement and feedback on their “self-work” assignments. To date, Lionheart has matched 186 prisoners with 127 volunteers.

In 2016, Lionheart was awarded an “Innovative Grant” from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to design and bring the Houses of Healing Self-Study Course to incarcerated individuals in the CA Special Housing Units (SHUs) in Pelican Bay, CA State Prison – Corcoran, and the CA Correctional Institution (CCI) – all prisons with large isolation units. During the grant period (1/2016-6/2017), 464 participants voluntarily registered and participated in The Houses of Healing Self-study Course for Incarcerated Individuals in the SHU. Course evaluations from 160 participants showed significant positive change and progress.

Summary of evaluation feedback from 160 participants in the 14-session Houses of Healing Self-Study Course for Incarcerated Individuals in the SHU.

464 men registered and received the course. The evaluation response rate = 34.4%.

  • 93% of respondents reported being able to remain in control of their behavior when upset (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 18% before the course, with 90% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 86% of respondents reported being able to handle anger in a positive way, (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 15% before the course, with 93% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 91% of respondents reported using healthy ways to make themselves feel better when upset, (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 13% before the course, with 89% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 91% of respondents reported being aware of their “triggers” (people and circumstances that trigger an emotional reaction in oneself), (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 18% before the course, with 89% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 95% of respondents reported feeling hopeful about life (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 29% before the course, with 83% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • 95% of respondents reported the ability to take responsibility for their actions, (“most of the time” or “almost always”), since taking the course, compared to 30% before the course, with 86% of individual respondents reporting improvement.
  • Among the emotional regulation techniques taught in the course are meditation and yoga. 78% reported that they meditated at least 3 times a week to almost every day. 50% reported that they practiced yoga from 3 times a week to almost every day.
  • 98% of respondents answered positively when asked how they would rate the course (with 90% rating the course as “very good” or “excellent”).
  • 100% of respondents stated that they would recommend the Houses of Healing Self-study Program to others

Comments on the HOH Self-study Course from Participants in Solitary

  • I have gave HOH information to about 10 guys now. I’ve told them all, It’s a great course. How has it impacted me? Hugely…. It has shown me a new way to doing time. It allowed me to really become aware of a lot of emotions within myself that I never really cared or knew how to explore before. I find myself at peace now.  And able to deal with hardship better than ever before.
  • As a result of this course, I feel stronger within and a much better person. I’m more in control of my life than I ever have been before. I also benefited from learning to forgive. It has lightened my soul.
  • Participating in this course was an amazing experience because every day I was able to experience new feelings and learn from myself things I never knew I had. I have also learned how powerful the feeling of relief is from acknowledging how hurtful I was to my victims. It has allowed me to see the human part of me. That I actually do have a heart and feelings that were always within me waiting to be discovered. My family loves when I share about this course.
  • It’s given me understanding which has allowed me to be more accepting, to relax. Accepting myself has let me accept the hurt I’ve caused. I’m now making some amends. I might not be able to change the beginning, but I can change the ending. 
  • I get the chills knowing had I not made the effort I’d be back in Solitary by now.
  • HOH self study program could give someone a light of hope in Ad seg as it did to me. 2 months ago a man down the tier commited suicide. Maybe HOH course have given him some hope to live.
  • I have recommended the H.O.H. self-study course to other prisoners for the good of the world.