Arts-In-Corrections Programs Return To California Prisons

After a lengthy absence, California has reinstated its Arts-in Corrections program, which offers state prison inmates “direct instruction and guidance in the creation of and participation in visual, performing, literary and media arts,” according to KCET.

The program was originally funded by the California Arts Council until 2003, when a 94 percent cut was made to the state’s arts budget. It was then funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which let the program lapse from prisons in 2010. CDCR has allocated $2.5 million from its next two fiscal years to return the program to state prisons.

"rehabilitation is possible if [prison inmates] are given opportunities to realize their humanity," according to a recent study by University of San Francisco Professor Larry Brewster

CDCR spokeswoman Kristina Khokhobashvili explained that the primary rationale for the program is lower recidivism rates. “We don’t want people coming back to prison after they’re released,” she said, pointing out that arts programs in prisons are proven not only to be rehabilitative, but also to lower violence rates, making prisons a safer environment for inmates and corrections staff.

The California Arts Council, which is helping CDCR to oversee the program, has awarded contracts to seven organizations to facilitate programs in 14 state prisons, Grantmakers in the Arts reports. Arts Council Chairman Wylie Aitken pointed out that CDCR partnered with the Arts Council because they already had experience implementing such programs in California prisons.

Inmates learn skills that allow them to stay out of prison, severely lowering recidivism rates

Advocates of the programs point to the fact that the vast majority of prison inmates are eventually released, and cite arts programs as valid ways to teach those individuals the career and social skills that will help keep them from returning to prison. Recent studies have supported those claims. In 2012, University of San Francisco Professor Larry Brewster conducted his Qualitative Study of the California Arts-in-Corrections Program, asserting that it is largely “opportunities to realize their humanity” that makes rehabilitation possible for many inmates. Arts programs, Brewster wrote, have helped inmates “earn self-respect, human dignity and self-esteem…, [which] only a very few [had] felt that they possessed…before their incarceration and participation in the program.”

As The Inquisitr recently reported, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world. The national average of 716 prisoners per 100,000 citizens is higher than those found in Russia, Cuba, and Iran, nations not typically known for lenient justice systems.

Aitken expects the Arts-in-Corrections program to outlive its current two years of funding. He also hopes to expand comparable programs to country and large city jails, where California has transferred many less violent prisoners in recent years to alleviate overcrowding of state prisons.

[Images via KCET]