A study by Aizer and Doyle, Jr. published in 2011 found that individuals incarcerated as juveniles are three times more likely to be incarcerated as adults. Therefore, the need for intervention and attempts at individual reformation at the juvenile justice level is apparent and crucial. Music is a common thread throughout our lives regardless of age and due to the strong message music can send, whether it be positive or negative, the application of music therapy with juvenile offenders can open up channels of communication and positive self-expression.
Recidivism is an incredible concern for all individuals in the criminal justice system. A study that tracked over 108,000 prisoners, both with and without mental illnesses, who were released in 1994 found that 67.5% of those individuals were rearrested within three years (Langan & Levin, 2002). Although exact percentages are not cited based on the variation between states, the 2006 National Report on Juvenile Offenders and Victims states that approximately six out of every ten juvenile offenders returned to juvenile court before they turned eighteen (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). Phillips and Lindsay (2011) evaluated causes of recidivism and found that limited coping skills and self-confidence were major components behind the high rates. An increase in mentoring programs, educational opportunities, treatment of mental illness, and therapeutic interventions could increase coping skills and self-confidence levels and therefore lower recidivism rates at all levels of the criminal justice system. Music therapy is a form of treatment that can be adapted for immediate success with offenders through improvisation and creation, fostering self-confidence and positive social interactions (AMTA, Inc.). Through these interventions and many others, music therapy is a cost-effective method of treatment that, if implemented into the criminal justice system, could improve the success of individuals post-incarceration.
As early as 1937, it was observed that participation in a creative arts program with productions such as dances, musicals, and dramas by detained women increased teamwork and lessened self-consciousness (Davis, 1997). In the last 75 years, the practice of music therapy in correctional settings has expanded as has the understanding surrounding it. At Askham Grange Prison in the United Kingdom in 2000, music professionals worked with incarcerated women to perform music in the community. In only three months, the project resulted in raised self-esteem, feelings of responsibility as part of a group, and cognitive reframing regarding oneself and one’s abilities (Skyllstad, 2008). Similarly, research conducted by music educator Cohen (2009) found that participation in a prison choir improved the overall well-being of the inmates as measured by sociability, happiness, and emotional stability.
Cevasco, Kennedy, and Generally, music therapy professors from the University of Georgia, discuss in their research that it is the “non-threatening and non-confrontational setting” that music therapy provides which results in positive outcomes such as self-expression and emotional release (2005). Their research found lower levels of depression, stress, anxiety, and anger in females undergoing substance abuse rehabilitation as a result of song-writing, lyric analysis, music listening, music playing, and improvisation.
Davis, Gfeller, and Thaut (2008) list other goals for this population including social interaction, reducing aggression, positive mood changes, and emotional development and target music listening, improvisation, and music and relaxation as the most effective forms of treatment. The American Music Therapy Association adds recreating and composing music to those interventions, stating that recreating music through singing or playing provides meaningful social interactions and increased confidence, while music composition allows for expression as well as self-satisfaction.
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