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Arts-In-Corrections Program Returns To California Prisons

Evening Edition

Aired 6/5/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Laura Pecenco, Project PAINT

David Beck Brown, Former Arts Facilitator, Donovan Correctional Facility

Robert Brown, Community Resources Manager, Donovan Correctional Facility


Inmates in California prisons have a whole lot of time and not much to do with it. Some people would say that's as it should be.

But many of those prisoners will get out someday so programs that help teach skills and turn lives around generally are accepted as a good idea.

One program that has a track record of being a very good idea is called Arts-in-Corrections. After a budget-induced hiatus of a few years, the program recently has been restored and is starting up again at Donovan State Prison in San Diego County.

Today the California Arts Council and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced its awarded $1 million to fund seven groups that provide art instruction, from theater to dance and music, in the state's correctional facilities.

A new playwriting course and painting project at Donovan have been funded through the William James Association.

“Arts engagement is a valuable rehabilitation method that can provide positive change for inmates and for communities across our state,” California Arts Council chair Wylie Aitken said. “The Arts Council is pleased to award contracts to these exceptional organizations, in partnership with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The arts are a powerful tool that can address many of the challenges facing the state of California.”

Project PAINT was launched in March at Donovan by UC San Diego PhD candidate Laura Pecenco. The program runs two 16-week courses, serving 50 inmates. Currently, participants are working on a mobile 5 panel mural that will be displayed at the institution.

Recent studies indicate arts programs have a positive impact on the prison population– improved behavior, reduced inmate conflict, reduction in recidivism.

“Structured arts programs have proven results,” CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard said. “Not only are inmates channeling their energy into constructive, creative projects, they are also learning new skills and expressing themselves in positive ways.

CDCR is also committed to a second year of support, providing $1.5 million for fiscal year 2014-15.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 5, 2014 at 2:54 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

This sounds like a good program, I'm happy to see it return.

The prison system in the United States is out of control.

We imprison more of our own people per capita than any other nation on the planet, including Russia, China and North Korea.

We spend more than any other nation on earth on prisons.

Despite this, our crime rates are no better than countries that imprison a fraction of the people we do.

We register people as "sex offenders" for things that aren't even illegal in the rest of the Western world like peeing outside and romeo and juliet crimes and then encourage vigilante justice against these people by plastering their photos on the internet

We detain prisoners overseas for years (GITMO) without charging them with a single crime.

We use tactics against our own citizens in prisons that the UN has categorized as torture, such as prolonged solitary confinement that literally drives people clinically insane.

Nearly every prison in this nation is overcrowded, and politicians on both sides of the isle (inc. Governor Brown) insist on building more because of the huge money and power the prison unions have.

We have a death penalty system that is so screwed up the drug companies who make lethal injection drugs have refused to supply them to states carrying out the death penalty.

We have started a new industry of "privatized" prisons that allow for-profit companies to run institutions responsible for detaining American citizens - this introduces all sorts of problems, including a financial incentive to find reasons to keep people locked-up longer.

Our prison system is racist and biased against the poor; You are far likelier to end up imprisoned if you are a minority and/or poor.

Public Defender's offices that provide a constitutional right to an attorney for all citizens are woefully underfunded and provide insufficient representation to people.

And, as I found out yesterday listening to the below piece on Fresh Air (THIS IS A MUST LISTEN), we have a juvenile prison system that is ultra-corrupt from the top down and that is actually CREATING future criminals through the completely broken system.


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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | June 5, 2014 at 2:55 p.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

Just the opening paragraph of the Fresh Air piece is enough to see how far gone we are:

"The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain, and 18 times that of France. It costs, on average, $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up — far more than the U.S. spends on a child's education".

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Avatar for user 'VAHall'

VAHall | June 6, 2014 at 8:18 a.m. ― 2 years, 8 months ago

I agree completely, Peking_Duck SD. We have gone, in my lifetime, from a system of "rehabilitation" (realizing that something must change 'inside' for things to change 'outside' for an incarcerated person) to a system of warehousing, forced labor, and waste of human potential on a grand scale. We have moved from being compassionate, forgiving, and redemptive to being punitive. Parole officers were once more like social workers, who helped their clients reintegrate into society and had a stake in their success. Now, parole officers are failed corrections officers/prison guards, who get bonuses for every parole violation they "catch". It is sickening and tragic, both. I don't know exactly when we got so punitive, or why, or just what exactly the California Corrections & Peace Officers Association or "Victims United" (their PAC) had to do with it... something about being in bed with CA's governors for the last several decades. Not sure either what the increased value of "corrections stock" or the privatization of prisons had to do with it, but we all know if there is a constant demand for a product or service, the business is successful.

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