Littman, Danielle; Sliva, Shannon; & Lin, Jeffrey (2021). Closer to the problem: can a virtual prison arts event foster psychological proximity to the issue of incarceration? Contemporary Justice Review.

Littman, Danielle; Sliva, Shannon; & Lin, Jeffrey (2021). Closer to the problem: can a virtual prison arts event foster
psychological proximity to the issue of incarceration? Contemporary Justice Review.

Author Affiliations: University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (Littman, Sliva); University of Denver Department of Criminology and Sociology (Lin)
Artforms: Drama, fine arts, music, theater
Program: University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI)
Program Description: DU PAI is a partnership between the University of Denver and the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) and currently offers programming at 11 CDOC facilities. Programs are semester-long and include a newspaper program, arts-based workshops (theater, creative writing, music, literature, movement, dance and cross-disciplinary), full-length production
processes and a podcast. The DU PAI program strives to create “creative and collaborative learning experiences that enrich the lives of incarcerated people” and “build collaborative communities that serve as spaces for therapeutic healing and innovative thinking” (p. 4)
Program (Study) Location: A/Live Inside, a three-hour virtual event on YouTube hosted by DU PAI in November 2020. The event featured pre-recorded and live musical and dramatic performances by incarcerated people, a fine arts exhibit and conversations with incarcerated people.
Study Published: 2021
Participant Type: Incarcerated and non-incarcerated viewers
Sample Size: 339 viewers completed the pre-test portion, 227 completed the post-test survey
Data Type: Systematic methods, pre- and post-test surveys. “The survey used a seven-point Likert scale to assess whether attendees felt incarceration was harmful (1) versus beneficial (7), and unnecessary (1) versus necessary (7).” (p. 8)
Evaluation Focus: To address how the program theory of change was realized in relation to the live event, the authors considered two broad questions:
(1) Does attending the A/Live Inside virtual arts event foster psychological proximity to incarcerated individuals and issues of incarceration among the general public?
(2) Is increased psychological proximity associated with shifts in attitudes towards, and intentions to act regarding, issues of incarceration?


Summary of Impact: The authors state that “following the event, A/Live Inside attendees demonstrated statistically significant increases in cognitive proximity (on two of three measures) and emotional proximity, found incarceration less necessary and more harmful, and reported increased intentions to act on reshaping issues of incarceration in the future. Those who had not previously visited prison experienced significantly greater changes in cognitive and emotional proximity than those who had, but reported similar levels of change related to attitudes and intended behaviors as other attendees.” The authors conclude that they “found compelling evidence that virtual arts events do increase psychological proximity, shift attitudes, and shape intentions to act – particularly among attendees who had never been inside prisons before.”

KEYWORDS: adult, drama, fine arts, music, psychological proximity, theater

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