Why Art Therapy is Becoming a Popular Treatment in Prisons

This article is about the promising administration of art therapy inside the prison setting. It features therapists, patients, and nonpatients, who are using art as therapy on their own.

Prison art therapy is becoming increasingly popular as a treatment option for prisoners, due to its proven efficacy in helping to reduce levels of aggression, anxiety, and depression. Prison art provides an opportunity for prisoners to express their emotions and explore their identities in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Through art therapy, prisoners have the opportunity to learn new skills, build confidence, and develop healthy relationships with themselves and with others. In this blog post, we will look at the benefits of prison art therapy, how it is being implemented in prisons, and the impact it is having on those involved.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses art-making and creative processes as a way of helping people explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, manage behavior, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem. It is becoming an increasingly popular form of treatment for prisoners and has been shown to have numerous benefits. 

In prison settings, art therapy can be used to provide a much-needed outlet for inmates who have limited options in terms of recreation or therapeutic activities. Inmates often find it to be a helpful tool in processing their experiences and finding relief from the harsh realities of their environment. By engaging in art therapy activities such as drawing and painting, inmates can express their emotions, gain insight into their behaviors, and even connect with others on a deeper level. 

Prison drawings often reflect the innermost thoughts and feelings of inmates. The artwork created by inmates can be highly personal and may reveal hidden aspects of the prison experience that they may otherwise not be able to express. By engaging in art therapy, inmates can explore a wide range of issues such as guilt, shame, anger, and depression in a safe and confidential space. It is also beneficial for those with mental health issues as it can help them to manage their symptoms more effectively.

How does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy is a powerful tool for those incarcerated in prison, as it can provide a form of emotional release, stress relief, and even healing. In a prison setting, art therapy can allow prisoners to explore their emotions and experiences through creating drawings and other forms of art. The therapeutic process often involves helping inmates to identify and express their feelings while creating art, as well as exploring the meaning behind the artwork they create.

Prison drawings have become an increasingly popular form of art therapy for prisoners, as these drawings often reflect the feelings and emotions of individuals who are dealing with trauma and difficult life circumstances. These prison drawings may be used as a form of self-expression, allowing prisoners to communicate their stories and emotions without having to use words. Art therapy in this setting can also help inmates to develop a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.

In addition to helping inmates explore their emotions, art therapy in prisons can also be a form of rehabilitation. This type of therapy helps inmates learn problem-solving skills, build resilience, and work towards positive personal change. Furthermore, art therapy can help inmates to build self-esteem and reduce feelings of isolation or depression. 

Through art therapy, inmates can create meaningful pieces of artwork that represent their stories and experiences. Not only do these prison drawings provide a sense of accomplishment, but they also allow prisoners to take control over their own lives and gain a greater understanding of the issues that led to their incarceration.

The Benefits of Art Therapy

The use of art therapy as a therapeutic approach has been gaining recognition within the prison system. In addition to providing inmates with an opportunity to express their emotions, it also offers a creative outlet for them to express themselves in ways that can often be difficult to do with words. Through this form of therapy, inmates can develop the skills needed to better manage their thoughts and feelings, resulting in improved well-being.

One of the most notable benefits of art therapy is the ability for inmates to create prison drawings. These drawings can provide an outlet for inmates to externalize their emotions, thereby reducing stress and improving overall mental health. In addition, these prison drawings can provide a creative space for inmates to explore their own identity in a safe and non-judgmental environment. For example, prisoners may find comfort in depicting their own experiences of incarceration or in creating images to represent hope and resilience.

Furthermore, art therapy can also serve as a form of rehabilitation for inmates. In a recent study, it was found that inmates who underwent art therapy had a significantly higher success rate of re-entry into society after their sentences were complete, than those who did not participate. This speaks to the potential of art therapy as an effective tool for inmates’ rehabilitation.

Overall, art therapy is becoming recognized as a proven strategy that provides a beneficial and promising treatment option for those in the prison system. By providing prisoners with an opportunity to create meaningful and purposeful artwork, art therapy can be an important part of their journey toward successful reintegration into society.

Case Studies

Art therapy has become a popular way to treat inmates in prisons, with many therapists using it to help inmates with mental health problems and trauma. One such example is prison drawings, which are drawings made by prisoners that help them process their emotions and experiences.

At the San Quentin Prison in California, art therapy has been used for more than twenty years as part of its rehabilitation program. A therapeutic art studio was established by a group of volunteers, therapists, and staff, who guide inmates through a variety of creative processes and activities. The inmates are able to create unique pieces of art that allow them to express themselves and develop positive relationships with those around them.

The art therapy sessions at San Quentin have been successful, with inmates showing improved self-esteem, social skills, and problem-solving abilities. Inmates who engage in the art therapy activities often talk about feeling heard, respected, and accepted—all important feelings for someone living in a prison setting.

A case study at San Quentin also found that art therapy helped inmates form healthy relationships with each other and staff members. Inmates who created prison drawings were more likely to communicate with staff, engage in activities with their peers, and participate in other therapeutic programs.

Featured Artist

Lamar Kairde Fagan found out the hard-way consequences of indulging in drugs. In the summer of  2014, he found himself involved in a robbery while suffering from a drug induced psychosis. He has been incarcerated ever since, and now is imprisoned in the UK.

From the moment he was in school as a child, Fagan had a keen interest in how art affects who we are as human beings. “I have seen how humanity has been forged throughout history by great artists and creative innovators,” says Fagan. “Every person in my eyes is a work of art and life itself is also!”

Peace of Earth, Lamar Kairde Fagan

As he reflects on the time leading up to his arrest, he now understands how being irresponsible can easily cost a person their freedom. Later, he would reflect upon the fact that his actions have had a negative impact on not just him, but others who are close to him as well.

“The time I spent being locked up, I found it very difficult and alone, as if time froze for me, and the world just went on,” Fagan told Creative Offenders. “I felt forgotten, even by keeping in touch with my loved ones I still found I was in a state of mental suffering, it wasn’t until I was in such a dark place in myself that I then started to look for a way out, so I started to paint as therapy.”

Very soon thereafter, Fagan would quickly discover that using something so simple as a paintbrush could bring forth a strong feeling of inner peace.

Discovering a passion for art gave him a sense of hope towards pursuing his dream to one day have his own animation studio and a career as a writer.

“I often focus on painting abstract artworks, or subconscious art,” he tells Creative Offenders.

Fagan’s work is subjective and open to interpretation, and he hopes people will find meanings that will help them along in their journey.

Fagan’s works are available for purchase on the website Creative Offenders. Creative Offenders is a team of ex-offenders who have lived that life but now it’s their turn to give something back. Their ethos is to take art into institutions to provide patients and prisoners incentive to participate in expressing themselves through art, as a positive form of therapy and a coping strategy.

We strive to bring art from the inside into the world outside. There is an abundance of talent within secure environments, prisons and secure hospitals that may never be acknowledged within the public domain.


The use of art therapy in prisons has become a promising treatment option for inmates, particularly those with mental health issues. Art therapy allows inmates to express their emotions, experiences, and thoughts in a positive and meaningful way. Through the use of prison drawings, inmates have the opportunity to gain insight and personal development. Inmates can process traumatic events, create connections with others, and heal from psychological wounds. Art therapy helps create a sense of self-awareness and can even aid in rehabilitation. The value of art therapy cannot be overstated in the prison setting. Its effectiveness is evident in the transformative stories of inmates who have benefited from it. Art therapy is a unique and powerful approach to aiding people in their recovery and healing process, and its popularity continues to grow within prison settings.


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