Coming Soon to Solitary Confinement Cells: Nature Videos


By Natalie Delgadillo

Inmates held in solitary confinement live up to 23 hours of each day in a tiny cell with limited contact with other humans. The practice has been found to lead to adverse behavioral effects in inmates, including anxiety, depression, hopelessness and violent outbursts.

Most prisoners in solitary lack access to fresh air and natural light. But according to a recent study, those things can be simulated to improve their behavior and well-being.

A study published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Environment in September found that inmates who were shown nature videos for 45 minutes up to five times a week exhibited a 26 percent reduction in discipline referrals. Nearly half of the inmates reported improved moods that lasted for several hours after watching the videos, and 80 percent of them said the videos made their time in solitary easier to bear.

The study was carried out at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon, a maximum security facility where inmates’ in solitary confinement are only let out of their cells to exercise in an indoor room once a day for about 45 minutes. Snake River reached out to the study’s author, Nalini Nadkarni, after seeing her TED Talk on bringing nature and science into prisons, says co-author Tierney Thys, a research associate at the Cal Academy of Sciences.

“Both Nalini and I, our motto is put nature where it’s not,” Thys says. “My background is as a filmmaker [for National Geographic] and a marine biologist. I’ve seen that time in nature has a therapeutic aspect that is underappreciated.”

Researchers gave 24 male inmates the option to view nature videos during their time in the indoor exercise room (later nicknamed the “Blue Room” for the blue glow of the projected videos). They displayed images of oceans, forests, rivers, deserts and rain. Some of the videos had ambient noise, some were accompanied by music, and some were silent. Twenty-four other male inmates did not get the same option.

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