“What you will see here tonight is entertainment, but what I see is rehabilitation.”
Brian Fischer, Former Commissioner, NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
RTA helps people in prison develop critical life skills through the arts, modeling an approach to the justice system based on human dignity rather than punishment.
We recognize the universal humanity of all people and treat everyone and ourselves with respect and compassion.
We are creative problem solvers and turn imaginative ideas into reality. We believe that the arts are an essential part of our humanity and make life better.
We take responsibility for our actions and understand the effect our actions have on the whole. We uphold our obligations to each other and to our work.
We listen, share, and depend upon each other. We believe that change and growth happen when we work in partnership.
The US prison system is based on punishment. The problem is, it doesn’t work – more than half of people released from prison are back within three years. This revolving door breaks down families and communities and costs taxpayers billions.
RTA offers a better approach. Founded at Sing Sing in 1996, RTA works with professional teaching artists to lead year-round workshops in theatre, dance, music, creative writing, and visual arts. The RTA model provides an intensive, comprehensive arts program that builds critical life skills so that people can meet the challenges of connecting with family and community when released.
RTA demonstrates that an approach based on human dignity is vastly more successful than one based on punishment. Less than 3% of RTA members return to prison, compared to the national recidivism rate of 60%.
How RTA Works
RTA’s program is dynamic and richly varied, incorporating a wide range of art forms, including theatre, dance, music, creative writing, and visual arts. Led by a steering committee of incarcerated members at each facility, RTA offers customized curricula, ranging from a one session master class in jazz guitar to a year-long project of script and character analysis.
What ties these varied offerings together? Community.
RTA is not a drop-in activity. RTA is not about becoming a professional artist. RTA is a commitment to a community of peers that uses the arts as a tool to support emotional, social, and cognitive growth.
Two published evidence-based research studies have measured the effects of RTA. John Jay College of Criminal Justice and NYS DOCCS found that rates and severity of infractions within prison were significantly reduced among RTA participants, as compared to a matched group of non-participants.
A study conducted by Purchase College, SUNY and NYS DOCCS demonstrated that RTA is a catalyst for learning, with participants pursuing and completing more education after starting RTA, as compared to a matched group.
Why the Arts
The arts do not depend on academic education or other prerequisites—anyone can participate. The arts are experiential and non-judgmental—there is no one correct answer. The arts develop the ability to see the world from different perspectives, encourage positive risk-taking, and allow for the discovery of hidden skills and talents.
The arts provide a bridge toward development in other areas. Over 40% of men and women incarcerated in New York State prisons enter the system without a high school diploma. RTA builds the skills and confidence that motivate people in prison to pursue additional education that leads to success in the workplace—the ability to communicate, set goals, solve problems and work collaboratively.
Turn the Skill Wheel to explore what the different art forms can teach and how those lessons impact the bigger picture of community, employment, and family for participants.
Who RTA Serves
RTA operates in six maximum and medium-security men's and women's New York State correctional facilities within a 200-mile radius of New York City.
There are 1.8 million people incarcerated in the United States today. Mass incarceration in the US is rooted in institutionalized racism and barriers to economic and educational opportunities in underfunded and underserved communities.
The New York State prison population RTA serves reflects this national problem. 40% of incarcerated people in NY enter prison without a high school education. People of color are disproportionately incarcerated, with 75% of the prison population Black and Latino. In 2018, Black people made up 15% of the NYS population but 48% of the prison population. Although a small percentage of the total prison population, the number of women in prison has been increasing at a higher rate than men since 1980.
RTA operates in these facilities:
Bedford Hills, maximum-security women
Fishkill, medium-security men
Green Haven, maximum-security men
Sing Sing, maximum-security men
Taconic, medium-security women
Woodbourne, medium-security men