IV. The Problem
VII. Classroom Experience
The first conference that looked at the use of arts in the criminal justice system was held in 2007. This is indicative of a young but growing movement that attempts to create positive intervention strategies using nontraditional methods. Foremost among these efforts is the utilization of visual, tactile, and performing arts as a means to reach and teach people who have either been arrested or incarcerated. These efforts have ample anecdotal evidence behind them but limited quantitative research to support their efficacy. This research paper describes the growth and development of the use of arts as an intervention strategy, what the research does and does not tell us, and where the next steps may be.
The paper authors represent the research, training, and academic components of a program called Prodigy, which is funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. Prodigy serves as a diversion program for arrested youth. Instead of going to trial, the first-time offenders may opt for this arts program. Prodigy also serves as a prevention program in that it is open to all youth in the community. No distinction is made by the program or the instructors as to the reason for attending—the diversion and prevention participants are in the same classroom. In fact, the instructors may not know who the court-referred participants are. There were over 3,000 enrolled youth covering six counties in west central Florida in 2008.
One of the keys to the program is its placement in high-crime neighborhoods. On-site programming is managed through contracts with 15 neighborhood-based agencies. This helps ensure that the program as implemented in the neighborhood has close ties with institutions—or assets, as they may more theoretically be called—that are connected (at least geographically) with the residents of that area. These partners include churches and community development corporations, as well as more traditional groups such as YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs.
The most critical measures from the program, from the funder’s perspective, are the outcomes of completion and recidivism. Empirically, those who complete the program are significantly more likely not to recidivate. Prodigy currently operates with a nearly 85% completion rate and over a 90% 6-month nonrecidivism rate for the completers. Both of these outcomes far exceed the contracted goals of the program. Data are now being collected on individual-level outcomes such as mental and emotional health, academic efficacy, academic behaviors, and other variables that provide measures of the program’s impacts.