Arts in Corrections
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 pilot project in 2014, the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has contracted with the California Arts Council to provide arts programs in prisons throughout California.
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 control, 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 is now conducting a multi-year demonstration project in county jails throughout California. Results from the first year are documented in a report on the County Jails Project. With additional foundation and NEA support, CLA is contracting with local arts agencies to place artists at county jails and administer surveys at the conclusion of their programs. The findings from CLA’s first project year, 2015-16, were based on sequential art classes in Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and San Francisco county jails.
Benefits for the participants included better communications skills and ability to express emotions as well as improved relations with other inmates and staff. The second project year has started in collaboration with additional county arts agencies, mostly located in rural areas of California.
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 and several private foundations. In June, 2017, CLA presented 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 to participate in five days of professional development activities, including sequential classes with master artists. Topics included best practices in program delivery, evaluation, legislative updates, reentry programs, sustainability, and building public awareness. 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.
In 2015, CLA presented its first national conference at the University of San Francisco, Arts in Corrections: Opportunities for Justice and Rehabilitation, More than 200 persons from 22 states, as well as England and Japan, attended.
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 2017, the steering committee is reviewing strategic options for the proposed national network organization.
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