Khula Aasman Prison Project:

Expressive Art Therapy in a Prison Setting: What is it?

“A very high likelihood that they will revert to a life of crime, and find themselves back behind bars, before long. ‘Punishment’ for its own sake is pointless, if it doesn’t transform the mindsets and attitudes of offenders. A prison can thus become a dangerous breeding ground for criminals, fuelling the very activity it seeks to deter.” says Janie Paul at the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor USA, an NGO providing art and drama therapy services for more than 15 years.

Incarcerated individuals have little control over their circumstances or future. Years of confinement result in greater loss of self-worth, a growing sense of anger, anxiety and despair. Families of the incarcerated are also doing time. The burden can be crippling. Half of all male children of inmates will also enter the system as juveniles. Ex-offenders find that freedom from the impact of incarceration does not end at the moment of release. Years of built up anger and frustration accompany them as they transition back into the community. Many will return to committing crimes within a year of release.

Law enforcement officers are the first line of defense in dangerous and life-threatening circumstances. The day-to-day challenges tax the body, mind and emotions. Prison staff, on a daily basis, work under incredibly stressful working conditions. The overcrowding that exists in many institutions adds to the anger and frustration of inmates which result in more frequent altercations between inmates and increased threat of staff assault.”

The Prison Creative Arts Project, UMich 2011 

Our Mural made with the women inmates at a local prison

The objective of providing an art therapy intervention in a prison setting is to enhance mental health through the process of play, which results in a catharsis of pent-up emotion, leads to a better self-image and helps building communities of support within groups at-risk.

Findings from other Expressive Art Therapy Research Projects:

Title of Project Finding
The effects of art therapy on male and female inmates

The effectiveness of art therapy in reducing depression in prison populations- International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 5(4), 444–460; Gussak, D. (2006)

The results of this study encouraged an ongoing quantitative study to ascertain improvement in depression, locus of control, and behavior in both a men and women’s prison population.
The Effectiveness of Art Therapy in Reducing Depression in Prison Populations

Florida State University, Tallahassee

Two quantitative studies were initiated in a North Florida prison to measure the effectiveness of art therapy with inmates, specifically in decreasing depressive symptoms.

What was revealed was that through the FEATS (Formal Elements Art Therapy Scale) there was a significant decrease in depressive symptoms in those inmates who participated in the program.


Please have a look at our Project Report:

  1. KA-EATPrison_report) : Aadharwadi Jail Expressive Art Therapy Intervention, 2015

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