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Arts in Corrections

Arts in Corrections National Expansion

California Lawyers for the Arts has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts Locals Program, the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund to expand Arts in Corrections programs nationally.  Working with state arts councils and local arts agencies in five states, CLA is sharing successful strategies for setting up and evaluating the effectiveness of demonstration projects in correctional facilities.  The five states that are participating in the project are Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan, Texas and New York.  

The first demonstration program of the new National Expansion Project was completed in February 2020 under the auspices of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) at the Ulster Correctional Facility. An evaluation of the 12-week program based on pre and post surveys completed by the participants is summarized in this report

For more information, please contact CLA's AIC program staff at this email address:

"Keeping true to our mission that all Americans should have access to the Arts, I saw first hand how arts programming within San Quentin prison is changing lives for the better." 

- Mary Ann Carter, NEA Chair

Arts in Corrections National Conference

CLA is showcasing the arts as a significant resource for rehabilitation during a series of national conferences funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Art for Justice Fund, the Andy Warhol Foundation and other private foundations.

2019 Arts in Corrections: Reframing the Landscape of Justice

Our third national conference was produced in collaboration with the William James Association, the Justice Arts Coalition and Santa Clara University in June, 2019.  More than 320 persons from 23 states and five foreign countries attended the conference, including artists, returned citizens, justice leaders, state and local arts leaders, elected officials and university professors.

Participants enjoyed classes with master artists, such as Russell Craig, Beth Thielen, and Curt Tofteland, as well as panels and workshops on justice reform issues, advocacy, program development, building public awareness, program development and evaluation. A field trip to Alcatraz Island included art workshops taught by returned citizens in the midst of a Future IDs exhibition. Keynote speakers included Nicole Fleetwood, professor at Rutgers University and author of Marking Time; Dameion Brown, Artist in Residence at Marin Shakespeare Company, Jimmy Santiago Baca, poet and author of A Place to Stand. The Silicon Valley Host Committee included 20 elected officials. 

Arts in Corrections:

Reframing the Landscape of Justice Conference Video

Download the 2019 conference ebook 

A compilation of videos submitted by teaching artists and organizations that was screened at the conference is available here

2017 Arts in Corrections: Building Bridges to the Future

In collaboration with the William James Association and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, this conference brought together more than 260 artists, educators and arts administrators from around the United States and the United Kingdom.  Participants engaged in five days of professional development activities, including sequential classes with 21 master artists whose curriculum outlines are included in the conference ebook below. Workshops covered best practices in program delivery, evaluation, legislative updates, reentry programs, sustainability, and building public awareness. Download the conference eBook here: Arts in Corrections: Building Bridges to the Future Conference Book

Keynote speakers included Bryonn Bain, performance artist and UCLA professor; Vijay Gupta, violinist with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra; California State Senator Ben Allen, Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Arts; and Scott Kernan, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. A total of 34 elected officials— including members of the LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, the LA County Sheriff and California's two US Senators accepted our invitation to participate as members of our LA Host Committee.

2015 Arts in Corrections Opportunities for Justice and Rehabilitation

CLA presented its first national conference at the University of San Francisco, . More than 200 persons from 22 states, as well as England and Japan, attended. See conference report here: 2015 AIC Conference Report.pdf

At the conference, a national steering committee was formed to advance the field of artists who teach in correctional institutions. The committee subsequently surveyed the field and found that 94% of the 205 respondents said they would be interested in joining or supporting such an organization. A feasibility study was then commissioned to investigate the opportunities and challenges of launching an organization to support artists who work in correctional institutions. In the spring of 2019, the Justice Arts Coalition was launched as a national network organization with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund.

                    (photos by Peter Merts)

Restoration of California Arts in Corrections

Starting in 2011, California Lawyers for the Arts has successfully collaborated with the William James Association to restore funding for California’s stellar arts programs in prisons, which had been largely defunded in 2003. Starting with a $2.5 million, two-year pilot project in 2014, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has contracted with the California Arts Council to provide arts programs in prisons throughout California. The CDCR now provides $8 million/year for these programs.

Previous evidence-based research documented that inmates engaged in arts programs are less likely to be involved in disciplinary incidents and to re-offend after release.

With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council and several private foundations, CLA worked with the William James Association and Dr. Larry Brewster of the University of San Francisco to produce new evidence-based research documenting how arts programs benefit incarcerated persons. Demonstration projects in both state prisons and county jails have shown that arts programs improve the participants’ confidence, communication skills and emotional management, while resulting in better relations with other inmates and staff.

Dr. Brewster’s 2014 study included pre and post surveys of participants in arts programs at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco and Soledad, New Folsom and San Quentin State Prisons. Findings included that participants had better time management skills, achievement motivation, intellectual flexibility, active initiative and self-confidence as well as a reduction in disciplinary reports. Significantly, many respondents indicated an interest in pursuing other academic and vocational programs.

CLA has now completed a multi-year evidence-based research project that demonstrates the benefits of arts programs for residents in county jails throughout California. Results from the three-year project are documented in our County Jails Project Report, which was completed in February, 2019. CLA contracted with local arts agencies to place artists at county jails and administer surveys to the students at the conclusion of 10 to 18 week programs. These findings were reported at a professional development symposium of the Correctional Education Association and a meeting of the California State Sheriffs Association as well as during several Art for Justice Forums (see below). The project was also summarized in a guidebook to innovative programs published by the California State Judges Association.  Benefits reported by the participants included better communications skills and ability to express emotions as well as improved relations with other inmates and staff. Project funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Andy Warhol Foundation, the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation, the Quentin Hancock Fund and the members of California Lawyers for the Arts.

"This project brought different groups of inmates together who might previously have had nothing in common with one another; this class left them as friends. I can only imagine breaking down the social barriers among inmates will serve to reduce instances of violence among involved populations. I am very impressed with this program and hope to be able to find funding to continue with something similar in the near future."

-Lieutenant Robbie Bringolf, Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, Nevada County, CA

CLA was awarded one of 30 grants from the Art for Justice Fund to produce Art for Justice Forums in MichiganTexasAlabamaGeorgiaNew York and California during 2018. These one-day programs were designed to engage the arts in justice reform efforts and increase support for arts in corrections programs, as well as delinquency prevention and re-entry services. A total of more than 750 persons, including state legislators, artists, returned citizens, survivors, educators, justice reform activists , and others participated in the six events. A short video of the Michigan Art for Justice Forum is linked here. Videos of the plenary panel sessions are also available here. The Defender published photographs from the Texas Art for Justice Forum, while the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition summarized the day's discussions in a blog report.  Formerly incarcerated writers were commissioned to write articles about each forum that were published on the website of the Justice Arts Coalition. 



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