Art Programs for Prisoners

Art Programs for Prisoners

By Mary Plummer /

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will announce Friday it plans to spend $1 million to restore arts programming for prisoners.

The funding will bring back the Arts in Corrections program, the demise of which KPCC reported on in January, along with makeshift programs that have popped up to try to fill in some of the gaps.

Despite studies showing inmates released from prison were less likely to return if they had participated in the state’s art classes, the program was eliminated in 2010. It had been a staple in state prisons for 30 years.

“These are skills that inmate artists can take out into the community when they get out,” said Krissi Khokhobashvili, a spokesperson for the state corrections department. She said the goal is to give inmates job skills so they don’t end up back in prison.

The new funding will give prisoners a big boost in access to activities like theater, sculpture, painting, and creative writing.

The state has also committed a second round of funding for fiscal year 2014-15, but the amount has yet to be set. The California Arts Council will oversee proposals from organizations that want to lead the arts programming — the funding is available for use at all 34 state prisons. Teaching artists will be in place as soon as June.

“These programs also direct inmates’ energy in a positive direction, promote positive social interaction, and lower tension levels, resulting in a safer environment for inmates and staff,” state corrections secretary Jeff Beard said in the written statement.

Cal Poly Pomona’s Prison Education Project runs what was, until now, one of the few remaining art programs in the state. Inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco described the experience of learning to paint as something they looked forward to all week long.

State inmate Earl Stewart told KPCC in November that the experience helped him to cope with the challenges of prison life.

“It keeps your mind occupied,” Stewart said. “It’s something to escape.”

(First published by KPCC; used with permission)