Experiment Finds Criminal Rehab Alternatives

Even the people who run the experimental jail program that uses acupuncture, yoga and "drama therapy" admit it looks less like Alcatraz and more like Club Med.

A San Francisco correctional institution has been testing the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project, or RSVP, since 1997. And while the program will undoubtedly strike some people as coddling of criminals who range from domestic abusers to armed robbers, there are early indications it may actually work.

A new study from Harvard University concludes that inmates who stay in the program for more than four months are 80 percent less likely to be re-arrested for a violent crime during their first year of release.

"Every prisoner in my jail has one thing in common: they all get out and they all come back to our community," explained Sherriff Michael Hennessy, whose department created the pilot program. "Now should we do something about that?"

"The easy way is [to] just put 'em in a box, hold 'em and let 'em go," he said.

'Self-Centered Aggressive Thuggish Boss'

"Before I got to this program I was out there robbing your sons, selling them drugs and putting them in hospitals," said Aaron Moscowitz, a former skinhead and RSVP graduate who now works full-time for the program.

Moscowitz leads group therapy sessions of yoga and drama which are supposed to calm inmates so they can focus on the cause of their aggression. During other sessions called called "Man Alive," the inmates discuss, dissect and diagram what they've done, so they can stop it from happening again.

"Man Alive" requires each man to identify his inner "hit man," the part of his personality that makes him violent.

One inmate named Tareese confessed to the group, "My hit man's name is Arrogant Egotistical Emotional Rollercoaster."

"My hit man is Self-Centered Aggressive Thuggish Boss," David, another inmate, told ABCNEWS.

Added Curt, a third convict: "Normally men don't have a vocabulary for emotions. We have angry, and we have happy. That's about it. But in 'Man Alive,' we have hurt, we have sad, we have afraid. And afraid is definitely not something that men are allowed to be."

The men are also encouraged to understand the impact of their violence by listening to victims.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Hennessy said simply locking people up doesn't work. Instead, his program teaches men how and why they turn violent and what it means to their victims.

"I want results," said Hennessy. "Our prison system and our jail system frankly don't work in terms of protecting the community. They work while the person's in custody, but you can look statistically — they don't work in terms of [reducing] future crime. We're looking for something that will prevent future crime, and I think this works."

And if it works, he added, he doesn't care how it looks.