Creating art while incarcerated in prison greatly fills the need for self-expression that is sorely missed for prisoners. Many believe that art satisfies an individual’s need for creativity, self-expression, recognition, and self-respect.
In 1977, a pilot project, called the William James Association Prison Arts Project was begun at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Ca as a vision from Eloise Smith to bring the magic and mystery of the art experience to incarcerated prisoners. From this vision the Arts-in-Corrections in conjunction with the California Department of Corrections was established, only to be terminated in 2003, due to the budget crisis.
However, private funding has been able to provide a few professional artists to teach at San Quentin State Prison as well as the Women’s Unit at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco.
Arts programs for many of us may be the final salvation of our minds from prison insanity. It’s contact with the best of the human race. It is something that says that we, too, are still valuable.”
– a prison inmate
The philosophy of a prison arts program is based on the belief that if one participates in art, that person’s general outlook on the world and life improves. Art workshops teach self-discipline, problem-solving and concentration. Many incarcerated prisoners have never had exposure to these philosophies. The Prison Arts Project creates a sanctuary where inmates are treated with respect, courtesy and an openness to their unique expressions as creative human beings.
An interesting study performed by California university’s found that when participants engaged in the Arts Program, there were 75% fewer disciplinary actions and 27% lower recidivism rates than the general prison population. What this means to local communities is that these prisoners will be more productive upon reentry and will be able to reintegrate with society.
As a progressive society in these changing and difficult times, it seems imperative to continue the support of prison arts programs to help keep a more balanced society.