American politicians may have reached a bipartisan consensus on at least one thing.
More now agree that the U.S. holds too many prisoners, and that we do a bad job of ensuring their good behavior after release.
According to the UK's International Center for Prison Studies, America has more prisoners per capita than any country in the world.
With just 4.4 percent of the world's population, the U.S. holds some 22 percent of the world's prisoners, at an annual cost of about $60 billion (ICPS 2014).
People certainly differ on the key purposes of prison: punishment, public protection, and/or rehabilitation.
Regardless, it makes sense to try to reduce recidivism, and make prison life more peaceful for inmates and guards alike.
We hope the results of a new omega-3 study will prompt prisoner-nutrition policies that may reduce the aggression and impulsivity that promote violence and re-offending.
Earlier findings linked omega-3s to reduced aggression
Several studies have linked higher intakes of seafood-source omega-3 fatty acids to reduced aggression.
This first signs appeared almost 20 years ago, when NIH clinical psychiatrist Joe Hibbeln, M.D., linked people's omega-3 levels to their risk for violent behavior (Hibblen et al. 1996).
That study set the stage for more research that's consistently found omega-3s playing a key role in curbing impulsivity and aggression in addicts, alcoholics, prisoners, and adolescents.
(Conversely, high blood levels of omega-6 fatty acids from cheap vegetable oils have been linked to increased aggression and depression.)
Now, the results of a year-long study show that prison inmates who are low in omega-3s are more aggressive and likely to have attention deficit disorders (ADD) that promote impulsive behavior.
Study links low omega-3 levels to aggression and impulsivity
The new research comes from the University of Wollongong (UOW) in the Australian province of New South Wales (Meyer BJ et al. 2015).
Called "Omega Man”, the one-year study was led by Associate Professor Barbara Meyer, Ph.D., a researcher from UOW's School of Medicine who specializes in omega-3s and other fatty acids.
As Dr. Meyer said, "We already know that low omega-3 status is associated with increased mental health issues such as hyperactivity, poor impulse control and depression.”
Researchers from UOW partnered with the Corrective Services of New South Wales to conduct a study in more 130 volunteers at the South Coast Correctional Center in Nowra.
The scientists measured the prisoners' blood levels of omega-3s, and compared those to the inmates' prison records and scores on standard psychological tests of aggression and attention control.
The prisoners' median "omega-3 index” – a standard measure of the amounts in someone's red blood cells – was 4.7 percent.
This is slightly lower than Australia's median omega-3 index of 5-6 percent, but it's far lower than in countries with seafood-rich diets, such as Japan (8.5 percent) and Korea (11 percent).
Critically, the nearly one in five (19 percent) of the volunteer inmates who had extremely low omega-3 levels also displayed the worst levels of aggression and impulsivity.
Dr. Meyer described the outcome this way: "We found a high variability in omega-3 status in the prison population, and inmates with lower omega-3 index were more aggressive and had higher ADD [attention deficit disorder] scores.”
Implications for prison and juvenile diets
Associate Professor Mitch Byrne of UOW's School of Psychology co-authored the study.
Dr. Byrne made a key point: "Our preliminary results suggest that by introducing more omega-3s into prisons, we may be able to decrease aggression levels in inmates and help protect the community from violent reoffenders on release.”
In line with last year's study (Fish Oil Curbed Anti-Social Behavior in Kids
), Professor Byrne also thinks it's wise to provide omega-3s to residents of juvenile detention centers, to help keep them from falling into crime and/or violence.
At the risk of making a bad pun about a serious matter, both ideas – giving omega-3s to prisoners and to juvenile offenders – seem like no-brainers.
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