Jocelyn L. Buckner
The United States of America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Department, there are over two million people incarcerated in American prisons, and according to the National Institute of Justice, 76% of prisoners reoffend within five years of being released. Historically, one of the primary purposes of prisons is to prepare the inmates for their eventual release, a process known as rehabilitation. In the criminal justice world, rehabilitation is intended to smooth reintegration into society, and provide skills and incentives to prevent future criminal activity. However, looking at the country’s current statistics and continuing pattern, the United States prison system is failing to fulfill this key purpose. Released convicts keep reoffending, thus contributing to the escalating problem of overcrowding in prisons. This raises some questions: does this statistic simply mean once a criminal, always a criminal? Perhaps this implies that there is something that American prisons can improve on concerning their objective of rehabilitating inmates? How do we keep American citizens from falling back into prison?
Research has shown that in-prison rehabilitation programs drastically reduce the number of the incarcerated who re-offend. Furthermore, studies have shown that programs involving the arts, especially theatre, have some of the most remarkable and effective results. Theatre companies with prison outreach programs such as The Actor’s Gang, The Medea Project, and The Strindberg Laboratory are helping to prove that incarcerated individuals who engage in theatre classes, workshops, and theatrical productions are more likely to attain rehabilitation and rejoin society successfully. These companies are helping people, some for the first time, express emotions they never thought they had the freedom or capacity to express, understand new feelings and perspectives, develop empathy, connect with others, and learn discipline and self-control. What about theatre is having such a profound effect on convicts? What is theatre’s role in reducing recidivism? This thesis substantiates the need for theatre focused rehabilitation programs in prison as well as in reentry programs, explains the methods taught and used by prison theatre instructors, describes the effects of these rehabilitative experiences on the individual, and unravels how these programs not only assist the incarcerated, but also how they benefit American society.
Donham, Mackenzee, "Theatre in Prison: How It Is Making a Difference" (2016). Student Research Day Abstracts and Posters. 206.