Mexican guitar workshop with Carmencristina Moreno at Avenal State Prison. Photo by Peter Merts, courtesy of California Arts Council.

Evaluation of the ACTA Arts in Corrections Demonstration Program

A report exploring the effects of arts education in prison


The Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) collaborated with the Asian American Center on Disparities Research (AACDR) at UC Davis to conduct an evaluation of the Arts in Corrections (AIC) program at California Correctional Institution (CCI). Through in-depth phone interviews with 13 male inmates engaged in storytelling, music, or visual arts, we delved into the profound impact of these programs on participants. The assessment aimed to examine the impact of traditional arts programming on participants, focusing on various aspects such as their experience in the AIC program, the institutional atmosphere, personal relationships, changes or growth, psychological well-being, and future skill development.

It was so open, so respectful, so inviting…it’s disarming. You know their whole motive is to help you, in whatever way they can…They’re very ferocious in their way of continuously showering you with all types of respect and embrace and drive and motivation, and it’s like you can’t not want to do better.

Report Findings

The program evaluation revealed several significant findings. Firstly, the program was most effective in improving interpersonal relationships, communication skills, and participants’ knowledge of specific art forms. The qualitative analysis indicated positive effects at both institutional and individual levels, with participants reporting strengthened relationships with instructors, classmates, family, and CCI staff/inmates.

Moreover, the study highlighted the unique role of art programs in fostering positive relationships based on mutual respect rather than authority, as well as providing a safe outlet for expression and coping with emotions. Participants also reported enhanced feelings of belonging and dedication to the group, which is associated with improved mental health.

Music and art – it’s not only a form of expression, it’s stress relieving.

Arts education in prison was found to aid in self-expression, self-exploration, and skill development. The program empowered participants by enhancing self-efficacy and providing a valuable experience of mastery, ultimately contributing to improved psychosocial functioning.

Lastly, participation in the program offered a mental break from the routine of high-security correctional institutions, particularly for inmates transitioning from solitary confinement. While the study acknowledged the need for further research with larger and more diverse samples, the findings strongly suggest the potential of the Arts in Corrections program to positively impact social relationships, mental health, and personal growth among participants.

Before I wouldn’t really talk to a lot of people. Now I just go up to people like, ‘Ayy, how you doing?’

Read the full report:

Evaluation of the ACTA Arts in Corrections Demonstration Program

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