The Art of Prevention: How Arts Programmes Are Operationalising the Mechanisms to Help Incarcerated Youth End the Cycle of Violence
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The United States of America has the biggest prison population in the world. With problems and concerns over overcrowding in prisons, human rights abuses, and recidivism of the incarcerated population, there is a strong argument for the adequate rehabilitation of prisoners so that they can re-enter and co-exist peacefully with the rest of mainstream society. Research has shown that frequent adult offenders of serious, violent, and sometimes gang-related crime share the similar risk factor of delinquent behaviour in their youth; being incarcerated at a young age increases one’s chance of incarceration as an adult. With the increasing criticism of its criminal justice system, particularly over human rights concerns, American society can no longer afford to ignore this problem, both economically (by investing in more prisons) and socially (by not redressing the structural and cultural violence facing the poor, especially those belonging to disadvantaged minority groups). The incarceration epidemic of America is a reflection of how its social inequalities with a strong component of racial disparity are causing so many avoidable deaths, especially among youth of colour and low-socio economic standing. In an attempt to address this problem, there has been a strong social movement of using community-based arts programmes to assist in the early intervention of at-risk youth in hopes to prevent them from becoming too embedded in the street life of gangs and crime so that they can escape the cycle of violence, drugs, poverty, and incarceration. There are ten mechanisms that contribute to their success. In theory, these mechanisms, when implemented effectively, can help incarcerated youth, those not just at-risk but in-risk, to resist the street life and avoid future incarceration of more serious crimes. In practice, these mechanisms are extremely difficult to operationalise though not impossible, but they do face challenges and limitations that reduce their long-term impact. Despite this setback, their place in the prevention programming field in giving voice to a marginalised group is of significance. The process of creating art and the end-products created by the youth participating in these programmes carry important policy implications for structural change, increase awareness for cultural change, and empower these in-risk youth to seek out personally change to lead a better, longer life.