For Immediate Release

A one-year study of inmates in four California correctional institutions revealed that arts programs improve prisoners’ behavior and their attitudes about themselves. A significant majority of  inmates attribute their greater confidence and self-discipline to pursue other academic and vocational opportunities to their participation in arts programs, signalling a pathway for overall personal growth.

The evaluation, which was completed by Dr. Lawrence Brewster of the University of San Francisco, was a central component of a demonstration project organized by the William James Association and California Lawyers for the Arts.  Through this project, which was funded by several foundations as well as the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, artists representing several artistic disciplines provided arts classes for periods ranging from 8 to 12 weeks.

The evaluation was conducted through pre and post surveys that were completed by 110 inmates. Participating artists were placed by Marin Shakespeare Theatre at San Quentin; Actor’s Gang at Norco; the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission at New Folsom  and the William James Association at Soledad.

Among the findings:

  • Inmates with previous arts education and practice, including former Arts in Corrections participants (N=79), were statistically more likely to be intellectually flexible, self-confident, motivated, in control of their emotions, socially competent, and better managers of their time than inmates who had never studied or practiced art (N=31).
  • A comparison of the pretest-posttest survey results for the 31 inmates who had no previous arts education or practice showed a positive and statistically significant correlation between their participation in the theater, writing and visual arts classes and improved time management, achievement motivation, intellectual flexibility, active initiative, and self-confidence.
  • Participants who had previously studied or practiced art were statistically more likely to pursue other educational and/or vocational programs than were those without arts education.
  • A significant majority of participants reported that the art programs helped them to relieve stress, feel happier, and gain valuable insights. Over half (58%) said their art brought them closer to family; enriching their conversations and nurturing a new identity as artist, rather than convict.

There was also a positive, although not statistically significant, change in inmates’ feelings of social competence and emotional control.  The fact that former AIC inmates who had participated two or more years in the arts program showed statistically significant improvement in these areas of social behavior suggests the importance of long-term exposure to arts education and practice.

Dr. Brewster previously completed a cost-benefit analysis in 1983 that showed that arts programs are cost effective and help to reduce disciplinary incidents.  In addition to the 2013 quantitative study, Dr. Brewster has been interviewing formerly and currently incarcerated men and women to learn the impact of prison fine arts programs on their lives. The interview data are reported in the book: Paths of Discovery: Art Practice and Its Impact in California Prisons.

California’s stellar arts-in-corrections program, which previously offered services in all 33 state prisons, was largely eliminated between 2003, when the California Arts Council lost significant funding for community programs, and 2011 (?) when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stopped funding arts facilitators in its prison system.

In the new study, inmates were tested on changes in behavior and attitudes, which are key indicators of their growth in self-management and community life skills.  In the wake of realignment, with many inmates being released to local community control in order to reduce prison overcrowding, Brewster concludes that these skills are essential to reducing recidivism.

It is a good time to look at how the arts can make a meaningful contribution to reducing recidivim, according to Laurie Brooks, Executive Director of the William James Association.  “We are in tremendous need of imaginative solutions for a correctional system that is way out of balance,” she said.  “Why not support inmates in replacing destructive behaviors with engagement in creativity and offer them ways to rise above the worst thing they’ve ever done to return to our communities with creative ambitions instead of criminal intent?”


For more information, please contact:
Alma Robinson
Executive Director,California Lawyers for the Arts
(415) 796-7692

Laurie Brooks
Executive Director
WJA Prison Arts Project
(831) 246-0561

Download the full report:
California Prison Arts: A Quantitative Evaluation
Larry Brewster, Ph.D., University of San Francisco