Arts in Corrections Artist Orientation

William James Association and Prison Arts Project Intro & History

Arts-in-Corrections (AIC) is a multidisciplinary instructional fine arts program that provides opportunities for people who are incarcerated to participate in hands-on experiences in a variety of visual, literary and performing art disciplines through classes, workshops and performances. Beyond learning art skills, the anticipated outcomes of the program include, but are not limited to, the development of avenues for personal expression; awareness of and appreciation for cultural, ethnic, social, intellectual and artistic diversity; development of communication skills; increased self-motivation; ability to complete tasks and projects; development of critical thinking and creative problem solving skills; ability to receive and give constructive criticism; and an overall increase in self-esteem.

The role of the artist is to bring professional art knowledge and expertise to the prison environment. Professional artists are role models who exemplify commitment, self-motivation, confidence, openness, courage, and sensitivity to individuals, the community and the environment. Because the artist’s role of teaching, inspiring and encouraging personal expression places one in personally sensitive situations, it is critical that the focus always remains on the artistic expression and that the artist maintains an appropriate professional distance. You are not here to be friends or confidants; you are in the prison to bring the potentially life-changing gift of your art to a desperately under-served and hungry for authentic human contact from the outside world. So just be your wonderful self and stay aware of where you are.


We cannot overemphasize the importance of open and clear communication. Talk to your Supervisor regularly, maybe before or after your class, or on the phone. Clarify each of your roles. Talk about your expectations and needs before you begin. Continue to check in about the peculiarities that come up while working in prison. Communication with the WJA is also tremendously important. We’re here to support you. Keep us informed of your progress and call us if you have any concerns.

In communicating with people who are incarcerated, watch yourself for even the appearance of over-familiarity. Maintain healthy boundaries with firmness and fairness. Do not tolerate infringement of personal space. Do not let yourself be in a room alone with a single person who is incarcerated.

The ability to provide a successful ongoing arts program in a maximum-security institution requires an understanding and acceptance of the institutional community. We are not here to change the operation of the institution; we are here to affect positive change in the lives (both people who are incarcerated and staff) of those who inhabit this unique place.


Please be aware that you can be refused entrance to the facility at any time and/or be searched. Be sure to call ahead to the prison before each workshop to confer admittance. At times the prison has issued a lock-down in which case the people who are incarcerated are not permitted to attend class.

You need to keep track of and renew your ID every year in a timely manner.


Don’t talk about what goes on inside on the outside and vice versa. Do not use the names of people who are incarcerated, other identifying information, or products of their study without written release forms from each individual. The facility may have a standard form to use.


We welcome and encourage staff participation in our workshops. Take advantage of the custody staff, their experience is a resource for you. Be sure to establish a method of immediate contact with custody staff whether it be with the use of a pager or an in-class correctional officer. You are not a Department of Corrections employee and you are not to assume any supervisory or custodial duties. Any questions about this should be directed to your supervisor.



We have established a positive working relationship with each institution by confining ourselves to teaching art. We have no hidden agenda or other priorities. There may be pressure from people who are incarcerated to show concern or assist in other areas. We discourage this and feel that the success of our program depends on a narrow and conservative view of our role in the facility. We must follow the rules set forth by the Department of Corrections, as follows:

The California Department of Corrections TITLE 15 stipulates (excerpted – see downloadable files for entire Title 15):

section 3399.  Transactions

Employees shall not directly trade, barter, lend or otherwise engage in any other personal transactions with any inmate, parolee or person known by the employee to be a relative of an inmate or parolee. Employees shall not, directly or indirectly give to or receive from any inmate, parolee or person known by the employee to be a relative of an inmate or parolee, anything in the nature of a tip, gift or promise of a gift.

section 3400. Familiarity

Employees must not engage in undue familiarity with inmates or parolees. Whenever there is reason for an employee to have personal contact or discussions with and inmate or parolee or the family and friends of inmates and parolees, the employee must maintain a helpful but professional attitude and demeanor. Employees must not discuss their personal affairs with any inmate or parolee.

section 3401. Transmittal

Employees must not take or send, either to or from any inmate, any verbal or written message, literature or reading matter, or any item, article or substance except as necessary in carrying out the employee’s assigned duties.

It is important to avoid even the appearance of over-familiarity – perception drives reality in prison: 

  • Do not engage in personal transactions with any people who are incarcerated that could be considered trade or barter.
  • Do not give or receive anything in the nature of a tip or gift from people who are incarcerated.
  • Do not carry anything into or out of the institution for a person who is incarcerated.
  • Bring in only pre-approved instructional materials.
  • Remove no work made by people who are incarcerated from the institution without supervisory approval.
  • Keep personal items you bring in to a minimum.
  • Money, other than vending machine change, should be left in your vehicle. You can bring in a lunch. Glass, metal containers or utensils are not allowed.
  • Be certain that everything that you bring in, you take out with you.
  • Do not share any food or beverage items with people who are incarcerated.
  • Do not accept any food or beverage items from people who are incarcerated.
  • Do not exchange personal information with people who are incarcerated.
  • Do not contact the families of people who are incarcerated.
  • Do not correspond personally with people who are incarcerated by mail, telephone or any other mode.
  • Do not hug, shaking hands is fine, and fist bumps are most common, especially since the pandemic.
  • Err on the side of caution and don’t hesitate to contact WJA with any questions.

You are not an personal visitor; you are a professional program provider. Do not discuss personal affairs with people who are incarcerated. You must report any contact with a parolee or the family of people who are incarcerated outside the prison to the William James Association and the Institutional Artist Facilitator or Community Resource Manager.

Any person who is incarcerated or staff behavior or comment that you do not understand, or that makes you uncomfortable, should be addressed with your supervisor immediately. Report any rules violations immediately. Not doing so can blow up on you.

Sexual harassment is not to be tolerated. If it is a participant, you could address it with them or just have them removed from your class roster. If it is a staff person, note their name, time, location, and what occurred and bring it to the CRM. Keep track of incidents from the start, and if it does not cease, inform your supervisor and/or the personnel department.




Plan to attend security training. It is your responsibility to know and adhere to procedures for equipment, tool and key control. You will learn about this in training from the institution and can consult your supervisor for further guidance in this area. It doesn’t hurt to out-custody, the custody staff. In other words, anticipate and address security concerns at every opportunity.

  • Always keep keys on your person and it is a good idea to carry a whistle.
  • The safety and security of the institution and all its inhabitants is the foremost priority.
  • Listen to custody staff and follow their direction unequivocally.
  • If you do not understand the reason for an order, follow it anyway and seek clarification from your supervisor, with available custody staff in private, away from inmate observation.
  • Get to know the custody staff that is responsible for your area and communicate with them regularly. Let them know what you are doing.
  • Always ask about unique circumstances (status of yard or lockdowns…).
  • Never allow yourself to feel totally comfortable with the institutional environment. Always be aware of your surroundings and who is in your classroom. A prison can be an unpredictable place.
  • Only inmates assigned or approved for your program may be allowed in your program area.
  • Institutional access is restricted to pre-approved programs and events in predetermined locations. Spontaneous entry or movement within the institution is restricted.

Any statement which indicates that violence may be directed toward a specific person must be reported to Prison Staff.



Appropriate professional attire is essential to your success as a program provider. Look around you; most of the individuals within the institution (staff and inmate) are in uniform. How staff and inmates perceive you determines the level of support and cooperation you will receive. Please read, and strictly adhere to institutional attire regulations. Failure to do so may, unfortunately, prevent you from entering the institution. In addition to the institutional policy, the following information will assist you in your choice of clothing.

  • Attire should not accentuate gender.
  • Waistlines must be high enough and/or upper garments long enough to ensure that no skin is exposed when seated or moving.
  • All garments should be loose-fitting.
  • Necklines, buttoned or slipover, must be appropriately high.
  • No sleeveless garments.
  • Dress for functional comfort, not for fashion. You will always be working in close
  • Proximity to your inmate adult male students.
  • Err on the side of conservatism. Don’t put staff in the position of having to correct you or deny institutional access. They know you bring positive programming that improves the environment for everyone.


Understand that this program is an ongoing program, and that fresh ideas do not have to be implemented immediately. The planning and implementation of effective programs and events takes time … LOTS OF TIME … expect delays and difficulties and develop tenacious patience. Continually evaluate if your reason for coming inside matches the mission of the program. Stay focused on the art. Please do not discuss potential programs with inmates until they are approved, because unrealized expectations are common inside and we want to be an uncommon program. Credibility and consistency are essential.

You are a wonderful resource that can bring light and beauty to an otherwise dark world. However, to effectively and consistently bring it, you must understand and follow the information presented above. Thank you!

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