Making art, making choices: A study of the art and writing of youthful offenders
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Series/Report no.:2008 Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum. 22nd
This research examines how students incarcerated at a juvenile corrections facility for girls respond to an art program facilitated by a community arts organization, ArtSafe. ArtSafe is a non-profit arts education organization in Ohio that provides programming on a regular basis at the facility. In the midst of declining state and federal funding for prison rehabilitation programs it is increasingly important that programs like ArtSafe survive and develop in corrections facilities across the country. This study of a corrections arts program reveals how students negotiate the goals of the art program, designed to enhance their choice-making skills and build their self-esteem and self-confidence, in the context of a carceral institution that emphasizes conformity and control. This study employed participant-observation to gather data in art classes offered between June and December 2006 at a juvenile corrections facility in Ohio, and applies methods of discourse analysis to the data in order to analyze patterns in the representations created in the students’ art projects, as well as patterns in the spoken and written discourse provided in the students’ interviews. Participant-observation is a qualitative research method designed to gain familiarity with a given group of individuals. Discourse analysis analyzes how social relationships and dominant cultural assumptions are articulated through patterns in verbal and non-verbal communication. This project teaches us a great deal about how youthful offenders learn in different programming environments, as well as about the various factors that influence their learning. Research of this corrections art program found that the students use their art to negotiate various assumptions about criminality and incarceration that structure their environment. Through their art and writing the students question and engage elements of their classroom and institutional environments, and also reject simplistic distinctions between “criminal” and “victim” that circulate in our culture at large. The students identify themselves through their art and writing with times and spaces that extend beyond their convicted offense and current institutional location, and focus on experiences and relationships that help them create an alternative to the institutional identity formed within the corrections facility. This also represents the spatial negotiation that takes place between the art class students and facilitators, as well as the art facilitators and the institution as a whole. Because ArtSafe emphasizes choice-making and individual empowerment in its teaching practices, the teachers must integrate the individual freedom that is at the heart of art-making with the rules and customs of the institution. This research reveals how individuals intimately involved with the criminal justice system (the art class students as well as the facilitators and institutional staff) are affected by and also respond to discourses of criminality, incarceration, and victimization that operate in their immediate institutional environment as well as in the culture at large. Ultimately this research enhances our understanding of the perspectives of youthful offenders on programming offered at juvenile corrections institutions, as well as our understanding of the changing strategies of approach in prison programming.
Humanities: 3rd Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)
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