Drumming, dance lessons, painting and theater classes—thanks to Arts-in-Corrections, a joint effort of the California Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, those are just some of the artistic offerings available to inmates at 19 of California’s 34 state prisons.
The project, which launched this summer after a two-year pilot, aims to reduce recidivism rates, decrease violence in prisons, and improve inmates’ self-confidence before they are released. Advertisement
“More than 90 percent of all people in prison right now are going to get out. At some point, they’re going to be somebody’s neighbor,” Craig Watson, director of the California Arts Council, told Take Part. “Wouldn’t you want them to be transformed from whatever they were that took them into prison into who they really could be if they were rehabilitated and had a new outlook on the future?”
Offering art classes to people who are incarcerated can be difficult because prisons aren’t designed for outsiders to enter and host private programs.
“Prisons, by their very nature, are hard places to do work in,” Watson said. “It’s not like setting up for a theater performance at a local college or here in the local community theater.”
Prison staff appreciate outside organizations that exist to help benefit inmates, but their first priority is to ensure the day-to-day safety of themselves and the inmates they work with, Watson said. In addition, it can be challenging to find artists who are willing to be trained to teach at a prison and who can make the time commitment necessary to adjust to such a learning environment. However, Watson has found that those who teach the classes are eager to return.