After an absence of more than 11 years, Arts-in-Corrections programs are returning to California prisons. On June 3, the California Arts Council awarded contracts to service providers to operate art programs in 14 state prisons.
The seven contracts totaling almost $800,000 were awarded from a $1 million commitment made by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “to add structured, contracted Arts-in-Corrections programs in selected state prisons,” according to the California Arts Council. CDCR has committed another $1.5 million to the project for next year.
The seven service providers that were awarded contracts are The Actors’ Gang, $112,000; Alliance for California Traditional Arts, $90,621; Dance Kaiso, $30,900; Marin Shakespeare Company, $51,671; Muckenthaler Cultural Center, $44,605; Silicon Valley Creates, $30,060; and the William James Association, $468,764.
The new Arts-in-Corrections pilot programs will be established in the following prisons: Pelican Bay State Prison, California State Prison – Sacramento, San Quentin State Prison, Valley State Prison – Chowchilla, Pleasant Valley State Prison – Coalinga, Kern Valley State Prison, California State Prison – Corcoran, Substance Abuse Treatment Facility – Corcoran, Salinas Valley State Prison, Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, California State Prison – Solano, California Institution for Men, California Institution for Women and California Rehabilitation Center.
The art programs will have different specialties. Some of the programs will focus on theater and dance, while others will focus on visual arts such as painting and drawing.
The Actors’ Gang is under the leadership of actor and Artistic Director Tim Robbins, and for the past eight years, it has provided theater programs in multiple Southern California prisons through private donations.
According to the California Arts Council, Robbins said, “The Actors’ Gang Prison Project is overjoyed to be a recipient of the newly reinstated state funding for Arts-in-Corrections. We are grateful that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has recognized the deep value of the work we are doing to facilitate transformation and lower recidivism rates while saving taxpayers money.”
Robbins has the backing of studies to validate his statements. Most notably, the CDC Arts-in- Corrections recidivism study of 1980-87 states, “:Six months after parole, Arts-in-Corrections participants show an 88 percent rate of favorable outcome as compared to the 72.25% of all CDC releases (in 1980-85). For the one-year period, the Arts-in-Corrections favorable rate was 74.2 percent while that for CDC parolees was 49.6 percent. Two years after their release, 69.2 percent of the Arts-in-Corrections parolees retained their favorable status in contrast to the 42 percent level for all releases.”
Another study titled “California Prison Arts: A Quantitative Evaluation,” by Larry Brewster, Ph.D., states, “Many participants self-reported a reduction in disciplinary reports while involved in the art classes, and 61 percent of those who were in the Arts-in-Corrections program for five or more years reported improved behavior.”
The William James Association has been providing art programs in California facilities since 1977, when it started the Prisons Art Project inside California Medical Facility.
According to the William James Association, “After a three-year pilot funded by various grants and donations, the California Department of Corrections adopted the program, which developed into Arts-in-Corrections, which grew to be statewide in California’s state prisons.”
By 2003, the state had cut funding to the program and eliminated contracts for local artists to provide services. Arts-in-Corrections still survived in a limited capacity in some prisons up to 2010. That is the year the Institutional Artist Facilitator position was eliminated from the state budget. Thanks to the efforts of staff and community volunteers, numerous arts programs continued to be offered in state prisons.
The William James Association continued to provide services at San Quentin through private funding, but in most other prisons in the state art programs disappeared.
The new funding for Arts-in-Corrections provides much needed monetary support for the few service providers that operated on shoestring budgets to continue art programs in state prisons.
CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard acknowledges, “Structured arts programs have proven results. Not only are inmates channeling their energy into constructive, creative projects, they are also learning new skills and expressing themselves in positive ways.”
Ray Ho is an example of what art programs can do for prisoners. “The Arts-in-Corrections program has given me a voice to express myself in an environment that normally limits the voice of prisoners. Block printing allows me to put into an image an idea or thought I am trying to convey. It has changed my future as to allow me to keep expressing myself and brought a closer connection to my wife, who also does block prints for a living.”
Forging connections with family can be difficult while incarcerated for some prisoners, and Ho sees the change art has brought to his life. “Art brings a positive element into my life going forward as I learn more about art and myself as a person. My future is bright with so many possibilities; I just have to decide when I want to step on the field.”
Ho returns as a citizen in September to Orange County.