An Art-Inspired Innovative Approach Changes Prisoner Behaviour – A Case Study

Most criminal justice experts are skeptical when an arts-based non-profit organization claims to have developed a rehabilitation program that improves prison morale and makes prison safer…yet alone makes the population more respectful and work more cooperatively…and, seemingly impossible, helps prisoners build the life skills they need to make it on the outside.  Skeptical is an understatement!

But Rehabilitation Through The Arts (RTA) has accomplished all that.  They have the results to prove it: a five-year contract awarded by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS), independent published research demonstrating fewer infractions and greater pursuit of higher education among its participants, and a documented recidivism of less than five percent three years after release.

RTA was started in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1996, and has gradually expanded to four other prison facilities, including New York State’s only maximum security prison for women. RTA also has a sister program at Hong Kong’s maximum security Stanley Prison.

In addition to classic, contemporary, original and musical productions, each prison in which RTA operates has a unique curriculum of workshops in a wide range of artistic media, such as improvisation, Shakespeare study, modern dance, playwriting, visual arts, Broadway show tunes and poetry. About 30 professional artists and educators, most with advanced degrees, facilitate these workshops.

Each art form features a different skill sets.  For instance, dance teaches poise and focus, improvisation teaches us to think on our feet and listen to others, visual arts encourage self-expression while cultivating observation skills and visual memory.  Among other skills, full-length productions develop goal setting and problem solving skills, provide practice in public speaking, and experience in accepting constructive criticism and working as a team.

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Author: Hans Hallundbaek