Power Source Research

Power Source is an evidence-based social and emotional learning program for highly at-risk adolescents. It is listed in the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) “What Works in Juvenile Justice,” a repository of evidence-based programs, as well as the OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide. For copies of the articles below, please email us at: powersource@lionheart.org.   

Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

Mindfulness training improves attentional task performance in incarcerated youth: a group randomized controlled intervention trial (2013). 

By: Noelle R. Leonard, Amishi P. Jha, Bethany Casarjian, Merissa Goolsarran, Cristina Garcia, Charles M. Cleland, Marya V. Gwadz, and Zohar Massey

Abstract: We investigated the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training (CBT/MT) on attentional task performance in incarcerated adolescents. Attention is a cognitive system necessary for managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals like incarceration and the events leading to incarceration, may deplete attention resulting in cognitive failures, emotional disturbances, and impulsive behavior. We hypothesized that CBT/MT may mitigate these deleterious effects of high stress and protect against degradation in attention over the high-stress interval of incarceration. Using a quasi-experimental, group randomized controlled trial design, we randomly assigned dormitories of incarcerated youth, ages 16–18, to a CBT/MT intervention (youth n = 147) or an active control intervention (youth n = 117). Both arms received approximately 750 min of intervention in a small-group setting over a 3–5 week period. Youth in the CBT/MT arm also logged the amount of out-of-session time spent practicing MT exercises. The Attention Network Test was used to index attentional task performance at baseline and 4 months post-baseline. Overall, task performance degraded over time in all participants. The magnitude of performance degradation was significantly less in the CBT/MT vs. control arm. Further, within the CBT/MT arm, performance degraded over time in those with no outside-of-class practice time, but remained stable over time in those who practiced mindfulness exercises outside of the session meetings. Thus, these findings suggest that sufficient CBT/MT practice may protect against functional attentional impairments associated with high-stress intervals.

Cognitive Decline as a Result of Incarceration and the Effects of a CBT/Mindfulness Training Intervention:  A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial (2017)

By: Rebecca Umbach, Adrian Raine, and Noelle Leonard

Abstract: This study primarily tests whether incarceration negatively affects cognitive functioning; namely, emotion regulation, cognitive control, and emotion recognition. As a secondary interest, we test protective effects of a cognitive behavioral therapy/ mindfulness training (CBT/MT) intervention. Dormitories containing 197 incarcerated males aged 16 to 18 years were randomly assigned to either a CBT/MT program or an active control condition. A cognitive task was administered pretreatment and again 4 months later, upon treatment completion. Performance on all outcome variables was significantly worse at follow-up compared with baseline. There were marginally significant group by time interactions. While the control group performance significantly declined in both cognitive control and emotion regulation, the CBT/MT group showed no significant decline in either outcome. This is the first study to probe the effects of incarceration on these three processes. Findings suggest that incarceration worsens a known risk factor for crime (cognitive functioning), and that a CBT/MT intervention may help buffer against declines.

Meta-Analyses including the Power Source Program

Mindfulness-based interventions for youth in the criminal justice system: a review of the research-based literature (2019).

By: Rachel Murray, Rebecca Amann, and Katey Thom 

Abstract: Mindfulness is a technique and sense of being present in the moment that incorporates aspects of acceptance, openness and meditation with the ultimate intention of improving well-being. Research indicates that mindfulness can significantly improve negative personality traits, reduce stress, increase attention, alleviate chronic pain and enhance mental health. Mindfulness-based interventions in correctional facilities have resulted in reduced hostility and improved self-esteem for adults, but less is known about its applicability amongst youth. This article reviews the research-based literature on the use of mindfulness-based interventions for youths (aged 13 to 24 years) involved in the justice system. A total of ten studies were located and synthesized into four themes of stress reduction, self-regulation, anger management and acceptance. The article concludes by considering the methodological rigor of the reviewed studies, providing recommendations for future research and contemplating the positive impact that mindfulness interventions might have on youth in the criminal justice system.

Research Review: The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2019) 

By: Darren L. Dunning, Kirsty Griffiths, Willem Kuyken, Catherine Crane, Lucy Foulkes, Jenna Parker, and Tim Dalgleish 

Abstract: Background: Mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) are an increasingly popular way of attempting to improve the behavioural, cognitive and mental health outcomes of children and adolescents, though there is a suggestion that enthusiasm has moved ahead of the evidence base. Most evaluations of MBIs are either uncontrolled or nonrandomized trials. This meta-analysis aims to establish the efficacy of MBIs for children and adolescents in studies that have adopted a randomized, controlled trial (RCT) design. Methods: A systematic literature search of RCTs of MBIs was conducted up to October 2017. Thirty-three independent studies including 3,666 children and adolescents were included in random effects meta-analyses with outcome measures categorized into cognitive, behavioural and emotional factors. Separate random effects meta-analyses were completed for the seventeen studies (n = 1,762) that used an RCT design with an active control condition. Results: Across all RCTs we found significant positive effects of MBIs, relative to controls, for the outcome categories of Mindfulness, Executive Functioning, Attention, Depression, Anxiety/Stress and Negative Behaviours, with small effect sizes (Cohen’s d), ranging from .16 to .30. However, when considering only those RCTs with active control groups, significant benefits of an MBI were restricted to the outcomes of Mindfulness (d = .42), Depression (d = .47) and Anxiety/Stress (d = .18) only. Conclusions: This meta-analysis reinforces the efficacy of using MBIs for improving the mental health and wellbeing of youth as assessed using the gold standard RCT methodology. Future RCT evaluations should incorporate scaled- up definitive trial designs to further evaluate the robustness of MBIs in youth, with an embedded focus on mechanisms of action. Keywords: Mindfulness; meta-analysis; intervention; adolescence; attention. 

Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Young Offenders: A Scoping Review (2018)

By: Sharon Simpson, Stewart Mercer, Robert Simpson, Maggie Lawrence, and Sally Wyke 

Abstract: 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, sub- stance 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.

Other Research

Power Source research featured at UMass Medical School Conference (Spring 2013)

At the 11th Annual International Mindfulness Conference sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, results from the Power Source NIH study conducted at Riker’s Island were presented by Dr. Amishi Jha from the University of Miami, a leading researcher in the field of mindfulness and cognitive neuroscience.  Her presentation, entitled, “Does Mindfulness Training Help Build Resistance?” featured the data from the Power Source research which demonstrated that participants in the Power Source groups experienced significantly less degradation in attention over time than those in the control group.  Her thesis was that in stressful environments such as involuntary confinement youth prison) and military deployment, mindfulness meditation serves as a protective factor against the cognitive impairments caused by stress.

Other Articles

Reversing the negative psychological effects of prison through mindfulness (2017)

By: Michele Berger

Just four months in prison can harm a person’s cognitive abilities and impulse control. Penn criminologists report that a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training can reverse the damage. Just four months in prison can negatively affect a person’s cognitive abilities and impulse control, according to findings published in Criminal Justice and Behavior from Penn criminologists Adrian Raine and Rebecca Umbach. The good news is some combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training can reverse the damage.