How one maximum security prison uses a ‘blue room’ to calm inmates in solitary confinement

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WATCH: The Washington Corrections Centre has a "Blue Room" to help inmates reconnect with nature and relieve anxiety. – Jul 20, 2016

Inmates at a maximum security prison in Washington State spend 23 hours each day alone in a small concrete cell. The inmates at the Washington Corrections Center, about 50 km north of Olympia, are considered the most dangerous of the overall prison population.

But in an attempt to keep a peaceful environment, prison officials give inmates the option of watching video installations of the ocean, sunsets and mountains in a so called “Blue Room.” The room, intended to relieve stress and release anxiety, was created at the prison last year and was based on the successes from a similar setup at an Oregon prison.

READ MORE: Canada looking at ‘new model’ for solitary confinement: top prison official

The room is painted blue and features indoor plants, art, classical music, and a place for prisoners to sit and watch the nature videos.

“It just gets you thinking about good times in the past. I know with the mountain scenery it reminds me of some of the camping trips I’ve been on. It puts me back into a positive mood,” William Carlson, an inmate said in a video posted by the Washington Corrections Center.

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There are two blue rooms in the prison, one in the maximum security area and another in the “Skill Builder” unit, which houses intellectually challenged offenders with IQs between 69 and 79. The aim for the corrections officials is that by offering a visual dose of nature, inmates will be calmer, which should lower violent outbursts and — in general — increase the safety of the prison.

“If there’s something that shows promise and is going to make it a better work environment for our staff and for offenders, that’s something we need to take seriously,” Steve Sinclair, the state Department of Corrections’ assistant secretary over prisons, told the Associated Press.

But an attempt at relieving anxiety for those in high-stress situations has been tried in other ways as well. In one program in South Korea near the Demilitarized Zone that splits the North from the South, soldiers take part in a ballet class to ease the stress of guarding the world’s most heavily monitored borders.

READ MORE: ‘People go to prison for punishment not to be punished’: advocates await Saskatchewan review of solitary confinement

The South Korean soldiers use the ballet class as a way of focusing their energy beyond the front lines.

A similar program on Canadian soil, near Pembroke, Ont., takes place for soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. The “War Horse Project” uses the interaction between horse and human to teach soldiers to live in the present moment and put their war memories behind them.

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— With files from the Associated Press.

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