Brewster, L. (2014). The Impact of Prison Arts Programs on Inmate Attitudes and Behavior: A Quantitative Evaluation. Justice Policy Journal, 11(4).
Author Affiliations: University of San Francisco
Artforms: poetry, theater, visual arts, writing
Programs/Sponsors: The Actors’ Gang, Arts-in-Corrections (AIC), California Lawyers for the Arts, Marin Shakespeare, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, William James Association
Program Description: AIC was one of the first prisons arts program in the nation, operating from 1977-1981 under the auspices of the William James Association, and from 1981 to 2003 under the California Department of Corrections. Individual and group instruction was offered in the visual, performing, literary and media arts and fine craft disciplines in California correctional institutions. The California Department of Corrections resumed funding of the program in 2014. This study incorporated evaluations of AIC as well as post-AIC prison arts programs in California.
Program (Study) Location: The evaluation was conducted at four California correctional facilities:
● California Rehabilitation Center, Norco ( The Actors’ Gang)
● New Folsom State Prison (Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission)
● San Quentin State Prison ( Marin Shakespeare )
● Correctional Training Facility, Soledad (William James Association) Study Published: 2014
Participant Type: Adult male inmates
Sample Size: 110
Data Type: Pre- and post-surveys: Life Effectiveness Questionnaire (LEQ) measuring time management, social competence, achievement motivation, intellectual flexibility, emotional control, active initiative and self-confidence Evaluation Focus: Changes in inmates’ attitudes and behavior
Summary of Impact:
● Pre- and post-test survey results of inmates with no previous arts education and practice showed positive and statistically significant correlations between participation in theater, writing and visual arts classes and improved time management, achievement motivation, intellectual flexibility, active initiative and self-confidence.
● A significant majority of former AIC inmates attribute the arts program with giving them greater confidence and self-discipline to pursue other academic and vocational opportunities. This was especially true for those who had participated in AIC for two or more years.
● Reduction in self-reported disciplinary reports while involved in the arts classes; 61% of those who participated in AIC for 5 or more years reported improved behavior.
● Most AIC inmates reported better relations with other inmates and with prison staff.
● A significant majority of participants reported that the arts program helped them relieve stress, feel happier and gain valuable insights.
● 58% of arts-program participants said art brought them closer to family, enriched their conversations and nurtured a new identity as artist rather than convict.
● Positive though not statistically significant change in participants’ feelings of social competence and emotional control; this improvement was statistically significant for those who participated two or more years in AIC.
KEYWORDS: academic, achievement motivation, active initiative, The Actors’ Gang , adult, Arts-in-Corrections, attitudes, behavior, California Lawyers for the Arts, disciplinary reports, discipline, emotional control, family, happiness, identity, intellectual flexibility, Marin Shakespeare, personal growth, poetry, self-confidence, self-discipline, social competence, social relations, stress, theater, time management, visual arts, vocational, writing