Research Studies

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Purchase College, State University of New York and The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Authors Ronnie Halperin, PhD, Suzanne Kessler, PhD, Dana Braunschweiger

Rehabilitation Through The Arts:  Impact on participants’ engagement in educational programs

Published in The Journal of Correctional Education, April 2012



Despite testimonial evidence that participation in prison art rehabilitation programs is socially and educationally valuable, it has been a methodological challenge to design studies that show a causal connection between inmate participation in these programs and rehabilitation.

It was the goal of this research to meet that challenge by assessing participants of Rehabilitation Through The Arts (RTA), a program operating  in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York State.  Because RTA asserts that prisoners develop social and cognitive skills that act as a springboard to education, this research assessed the effect of RTA participation on academic engagement.

Studies were conducted of RTA participants and a comparison sample of incarcerated men matched on age, ethnicity, type of crime, date of entry into NYS DOCCS, time served and earliest release date. The studies concluded that:

  • More men in the RTA group completed educational degrees beyond the GED while in prison than those in the comparison group.
  • RTA participants who entered prison with a high school diploma spent proportionally more time engaged in college programs after joining RTA than the comparison group.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York and The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision 

Silence of Heart hug croppedAuthor: Lorraine Moller, PhD

Project Slam: Rehabilitation through Theatre at Sing Sing Correctional Facility

Published in The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Number 5


Thirty-five inmates whose length of involvement in Rehabilitation Through The Arts (RTA) ranged from 6 months to 6 years were compared with thirty men from the general prison population.  The two groups were matched on race, age, education, crime and the length of sentence.  The participants completed a battery of tests, which included standardized psychological inventories that measure interpersonal trust, self-esteem, coping responses, anger levels, empathy and social responsibility.  Researchers also examined disciplinary records for both groups over the six-month duration of the study to compare infraction rates (rule violations) and positive outcomes (job promotions, rehab and educational programs and good behavior transfers).  Assessments were made twice, before and after the fall production, “Slam.”

The two groups differed in a number of important ways:  (1) The RTA group reported a higher level of positive coping than the control group.  (2)  Although RTA participants had a higher level of anger than the control participants at the outset of the study, the anger levels of RTA participants declined at the second assessment, while the anger levels of the control participants increased.  (3)  RTA participants had fewer infractions and spent fewer days in keeplock (locked in their cells as a disciplinary measure resulting from a violation of prison rules) than the control group of participants.

The amount of time inmates were active in RTA was correlated with negative and positive outcomes.  The analysis pointed to a strong pattern: The longer the inmate was in the program, the fewer violations he committed.  A longer period of participation predicted a higher level of social responsibility.  This suggests that RTA participants are more dependable, more socially mature and, sacrifice individual needs for the welfare of a group more than control participants.

It’s different than any other program I’ve experienced. It’s not peaches and cream, there’s a lot of conflict and it’s hard work but I think it’s the conflict that really defines who we are. We understand that if anything bad happens, it’s going to damage the program. We believe in the program so much that we hold each other in check and regulate each other’s behavior.RTA Participant, Woodbourne Correctional Facility