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Arts-In-Corrections Program Returns To California Prisons


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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