Arts-In-Corrections Program Returns To California Prisons
June 5, 2014 1:18 p.m.
Laura Pecenco, Project PAINT
David Beck Brown, Former Arts Facilitator, Donovan Correctional Facility
Robert Brown, Community Resources Manager, Donovan Correctional Facility
Related Story: Arts-In-Corrections Program Returns To California Prisons
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Inmates in California prisons have a whole lot of time and not much to do with it. Some people would say, that is as it should be. But many of those prisoners will be out one day. So programs that teach skills in turn live around are generally accepted as a good idea. One program that has a track record of being a very good idea is called arts in correction, after a budget induced hiatus in a few years, the grand has recently been restored and is starting up again at Donovan State Prison in San Diego County. I would like to introduce my guests, Laura Pecenco, a local San Diego PhD candidate in sociology who started the visual arts program at Donovan called Project PAINT. David Beck Brown was the Artist Facilitator at Donovan before the budget cut. Thank you for coming in. Laura, you have been involved in a volunteer arts program at Donovan. How is that changing now that the program is funded again?
LAURA PECENCO: We are now offering additional programming at the prison. We are starting some sixteen week courses your we will be offering eight months worth of programming at the prison, designed to start off with some two-dimensional techniques and then 3-D artwork which we have previously not done, we are very excited about that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What actual projects are the inmates working on? There's a mural being painted right now, isn't that right?
LAURA PECENCO: That's right. We are working on mobile murals, they're going into each of the present life visiting rooms. They are all nature-based, so they are fantastic images, and they are all designed by the inmates on our team. Twenty men who have been working on these murals. They came up with a theme together, pathways, which is very symbolic for them. It has been a great process, we have done a lot of collaboration, and we do a lot of consensus building all the time. It is a great project not only for inmates, but also for their family since they are going into the visiting rooms. Their family members get to come and appreciate the artwork of these men am a and I think it is great for the public as well to show that many of these men are very committed to rehabilitation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You have actually been able to add a couple of staff members because of the new funding for the program, right?
LAURA PECENCO: Absolutely. I am currently working with Kathleen Mitchell who is a glass blowing artist who owns her own studio at the Glasshouse in Barrio Logan. I am also working with Kevin Gist, who will probably stay on as a volunteer basis as well. We're also adding on Terra Smith, the deputy director and chief curator of the Oceanside Museum of Art. We have some really fantastic artists of that will be a part of our program.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When it comes to the interest that the inmates have in this program in a arts programs, there was an article recently written in CityBeat by Kinsey Moreland. She said, while she was there, double the amount of inmates showed up for the class, and there was not enough room, so they sat on the floor. Is that the typical kind of response that you get?
LAURA PECENCO: Yes, it's great. The participants are so excited about the program and it goes to show how important expansion of these programs really is. We constantly have people who stop by at the end of our program each evening, and asked to get on the wait list, they will ask about future opportunities, so I am so thrilled with this new California Arts Council funding that we will be able to offer additional programming.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: David, you are local artist who headed up the Donovan Correction Arts Program when it began. Was the program popular all down the line all through the years you were with it?
DAVID BECK BROWN: Yes. We had drawing, painting, sculpture, acting, writing, poetry. We brought in Different St., Circus, we had theater groups. We brought in things that we painted throughout the community. We had people like Spike Sarantino with acting, Jeff Irwin with ceramics, we had some great folks there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you see the effects on the program on the inmates that were taking the classes? As Laura was talking about, a collaboration or discipline concentration, that kind of thing? What kind of changes did you see in the inmates?
DAVID BECK BROWN: Mainly the prison population is broken down into black, white, brown, Mexican, African American, white etc. Inside the arts area they would be helping each other, and as soon as they would leave they would get back into the prison mode. There is a lot of people who changed. In fact I get emails, I have a website and I have people writing saying that arts and corrections was the only rehabilitation program within the program. We have others, but mainly it is on paper.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What else do we know about the benefits of arts programs in prisons?
LAURA PECENCO: There been numerous studies done that have very well documented benefits of such programs. Their groceries a professor at the University of San Francisco, and he has done multiple studies starting in 1983. He did a study that had to do with cost benefit analysis, looking at how there are multiple benefits to taxpayers. We have to think about this not just in terms of inmates getting these are time, but in fact many of us are paying out of our own pockets for these mentor prisons. It is important to think about this on a practical, fiscal basis. He also did a study in 1987 that looked at what happened post-release and he found that recidivism rates were greatly reduced for those inmates who had participated in arts and correction programs. You had roughly half the rate of recidivism of your average state parolee overall. In 2010 he did a qualitative study, where he looked at not only numbers, what kinds of benefits to be see, but what does this mean both within the institution with how inmates relate to one another, but also how they relate to their families. And then what happens when they are released into the community. Recently in January of this year he completed another quantitative study, using what he called the life effectiveness questionnaire. He administered surveys in four prisons throughout California. He found that the inmates who had participated in arts education were much more likely to be intellectually flexible, self-confident, motivated to pursue a prison education, etc.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, let me go to Donovan State Prison right now. Joining us on the line is Robert Brown, community resources manager at Donovan. Welcome to the program. How is project paint working out at Donovan?
ROBERT BROWN: They are doing a great job. I spoke with a facility Captain in facility D today, and he said how much he has appreciated Laura and her team. He said he gives inmates a sense of self confidence and something to work towards. It has been a real positive for facility D.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is this kind of program more labor intensive for correctional officers in the prison?
ROBERT BROWN: No, we try to minimize the impact on officers. But obviously, safety and security is a premium. We are in a prison, so we try to impact the least amount on them, but also in mind keeping our volunteers and inmates safe.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you manage security? Is it something where you have to count the pencils and brushes and that sort of thing?
ROBERT BROWN: Definitely. There is a lot of inventory logging, checking things in and checking inventory. What can be brought into the prison, going through that process, Laura became a pro at it and we are working together with custody what can come in and what can come in, and all that good stuff.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Both Laura and David are laughing here, they have been through this before with the counting of pencils, I'm sure. Even though the arts program this time around is scaled-back, it is not as expensive as David was saying it was back in the day. Isn't there also a playwriting class that is part of the new funding?
ROBERT BROWN: Yes, I just heard about that today, I am playing catch up on that. It is my understanding that there might be a playwriting class coming.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What long-term benefits are you hoping for from these arts programs?
ROBERT BROWN: The secretary and working here are very supportive. I would like to point out, structured art programs have proven results. You're channeling the inmates energy into something more productive. You mentioned normal prison politics, how prisons work, you provide them a new skill and allow them to express themselves in a new way. That leads to a safer prison, fewer staff assaults, better programming, and more importantly when they released they are not committing new crimes. Obviously the dollars and cents, it is very expensive to incarcerate an individual. If they are not causing new crimes you do not have to pay for incarcerating them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Thank you for joining us, I appreciate it. Laura, I want to ask, you how did you get involved in this in the first place?
LAURA PECENCO: I am writing my dissertation on men in prison who make art, originally I thought I could just volunteer for a pre-existing program, and then I found out that we did not have any prison programs here in San Diego. All of the prison arts programs that are currently running are in prisons in other parts of California. I thought were not get one started? That has been a really great experience. I have also been working with a number of other organizations. I previously volunteered for a creative writing program, which is called Project Summit, which is run by Paul Sutton, a professor at San Diego State University. Recently we have been developing a coalition of various interested organizations. So we have the summit project, the playwriting program which just got funding from the California Arts Council, we have the Old Globe which was also interested in getting the fall tour to include prisons. It is really across the University.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So this is something that is hopefully expanding into a whole bunch of different areas where the arts are concerned?
LAURA PECENCO: Yes, we see it as a cross-university consortium of experts who are implementing prison reform, involving various community groups and individuals as well.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: David, you were describing a program that had a wide umbrella of arts program back in the day. This funding that is coming down now is about $1 million for our programs in California. I heard that the peak in this was about $3.3 million. What are we missing in the second phase of arts and corrections? It is not as expensive.
DAVID BECK BROWN: Arts in corrections stopped in March 2003. We have been trying to get it back, but it has been discouraging. The California Arts Council is now funding grants for fifteen of the thirty-two prisons. In the past, we had programs in every prison.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What you think has to be done to get that back to where it was?
DAVID BECK BROWN: Legislation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In terms of getting more people in Sacramento behind it?
DAVID BECK BROWN: Sacramento, right. This program running powerful folks, Howard Fox, chief curator of contemporary art, Howard Hughes, who directs the La Jolla Museum, the input was good. But we have to have it through legislation. What happened in the past, this was funded by the CDC and the California Department of corrections. The grants people would work with us. At this point, it is only a grant program and I think it is marked for two years.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There was also a mindset in the past that was more geared towards rehabilitation and more geared towards using programs like this for inmates to make changes in their lives that they could take with them when they left prison. That sort of shutdown, didn't it? The idea was, people are in prison, lock them up and throw them away the key.
DAVID BECK BROWN: It is costing you and me at least $50,000 per year to house one convict. And then there is medical, if the person has a heart attack, kidney difficulties, it is quite expensive. What happened, the unions had power struggles. Arts and corrections was the victim.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And there was very little money to go around in the 2000 when this was cut off.
DAVID BECK BROWN: The money was there, it was just earmarked to other things.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are you hoping, Laura,, this is a pilot program as David has pointed out. What do you think you need to do in order to show legislators that this is a good program and should be permanent?
LAURA PECENCO: I think we need to keep producing positive results. I think the more opportunities that we have to demonstrate the power of these programs, the more likely we will be able to do that. I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction. We are so pleased we will be able to expand our programming, bring the
playwright program in as well, and we're hoping we will be able to include some other organizations that I mentioned and keep opening doors there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both so much. David, I now brought in some artwork which I could not show giving the limitations of the medium, but I appreciate it. Thank you both very much.
DAVID BECK BROWN: Thank you.
LAURA PECENCO: Thank you, Maureen.