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Prison Communities International, Inc., dba Rehabilitation Through The Arts (RTA)
Why are the arts transformative?
To explain this concept, we came up with the Skill Wheel, a graphic device which shows the specific skills gained from various RTA activities.
The inner part of the Skill Wheel shows, for instance, that theatre develops empathy, collaboration and managing authority issues; dance develops poise and body control; visual art develops observation skills and focus.
Turn the inside wheel to make the connection to family, employment and community life. For example, improvisation teaches us how to excel under pressure, a quality that is critical to doing well in a job interview. The ability to manage authority issues, developed in a full-scale theatrical production, is critical to succeeding in employment, as is problem-solving, collaboration and goal setting.
Everyone loves the Skill Wheel, even the executive staff of the Department of Corrections in Albany. It is also given to every new RTA member as part of their orientation to the program.
More than 800 prisoners have participated in RTA since it began, and hundreds have been released. Of participants released over three years - the standard measure of recidivism - fewer than 5% have returned to prison. Compare this to New York State's average of 40% or the national average of over 60%.
Are there other programs like RTA?
There is a smattering of other arts-in-corrections programs around the world including a few bright spots, such as California and the UK, with strong government support. But RTA’s program stands out by its openness to new members regardless of crime or disciplinary record, its community model which includes gaining leadership experience through an active prisoner-member coordinating committee, the breadth of the arts it teaches and its emphasis on developing life skills critical inside and outside the walls.