Case study - Prison rehabilitation programs

Case study - Prison rehabilitation programs

Art inside prisons?

Case study - prison rehabilitation programs

Back in 1875, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) was one of the early founders of the Prisoners’ Friends Society, the first prison rehabilitation art program. Dedicated to helping incarcerated men and women develop skills to prepare them for re-entry into their communities. The Society sought to demonstrate that incarcerated individuals are more than a number and that no one should be defined solely by the act that brought them to prison. Initiating a movement, our Case Study about Prison Rehabilitation Art Programs reveals the development of this trend. 
From those humble beginnings to today, in-prison rehabilitation art programs have proliferated in every state across the United States in both low-security facilities and high-security facilities. And one of the most prominent types of programs nationwide has been prison art programs.
For the men and women inside, art has been used as a way to process the world and as a path to healing. It also helps inmates to develop the core skills that employers require. Extensive research affirms the strong correlation between the development of the right brain and arts education and practice, which leads to higher-order thinking skills and greater emotional self-regulation.
And the creativity is stunning. Within the confines of prison walls, some artists use traditional tools like ballpoint pens and colored pencils while others choose to use improvised prison staples such as toilet paper, ramen noodle packaging, Q-tips, and even floor wax. The movement is spreading with curated exhibits of art created inside of prisons growing in popularity. Learn how to submit your loved one’s artwork to Art for Redemption™. 

Art for Redemption™ prison rehabilitation art program is like Etsy but built specifically for artists that are incarcerated or on parole. Art for Redemption’s™ vision is to become the leading e-commerce site for art created inside prisons and the company is expanding to partner with social justice and criminal reform organizations to bridge the gap between incarcerated individuals and society-at-large.

Art for Redemption™ isn’t just a platform. It’s also the first true vendor to legally contract on behalf of participating artists, which in turn creates opportunities for artists to pay child support, victim restitution, and other societal debts. Through a pilot program with the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), Art for Redemption™ is now collecting artwork in anticipation of a public launch in 2020.

Founded by Buck Adams, a veteran, social entrepreneur, and former inmate at Arkansas Valley Correction Facility, Art for Redemption™ harnesses the talent, creativity, and human ingenuity inside prison walls. Buck Adams participated in Defy Colorado’s innovative business incubation program and has benefited greatly from the networks of mentors and investors that his participation in Defy made possible.


Our story

Art for Redemption™ is committed to providing a secure and professional e-commerce experience that will showcase the artists’ work and connect incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals with customers, opening new income streams for them.


Art for Redemption™ is helping to build the most robust marketplace for artwork sourced from inside prisons. The company will do so by leveraging the strength of social media and marketing campaigns that will help get the artwork seen by as many eyeballs as possible. Art for Redemption™ works with incarcerated artists to create a profile and sales presentation to ensure their artwork is presented in a professional manner.

Because Art for Redemption™ is dedicated to addressing the myriad issues that inevitably come with incarceration, we donate a percentage of all sales to various social justice and prison reform organizations.


Currently, more than 2 million people are being held in the criminal justice system nationwide, and in Colorado, the prison population is expected to increase 20% by 2025. With a pronounced shortage of viable employment and housing opportunities available to formerly incarcerated individuals, the odds of successfully breaking the cycle of incarceration are low, with more than 50% of those returning to prison within three years of release in Colorado (about 20 percentage points lower than the national average).

Oscar Rodriguez

Enter Defy Colorado — an independent nonprofit organization working to break this cycle of mass incarceration by offering a scalable model that includes employment readiness, character development, and entrepreneurship training inside and outside of prisons. Through its eight-month in-prison rehabilitation program, Defy Colorado helps individuals with criminal histories ultimately defy the odds and build successful, legitimate businesses outside of prison and integrate back into their communities.

Defy Colorado’s flagship program develops both male and female “Entrepreneurs in Training” (EITs). Launched at Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility and Colorado State Penitentiary in November 2017 to serve the male population, Defy Colorado expanded in April 2019 to serve women at the La Vista Correctional Facility.

 Defy Colorado works in close partnership with the Colorado Department of Corrections, leading business and community leaders, entrepreneurs, families, and a legion of passionate mentors.  More than 200 EITs and 600 mentors participated in Defy Colorado’s programs in 2019. For more information, please visit


According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study that tracked more than 400,000 individuals across 30 states after their release from prison, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested within three years. And within five years of release, the number of rearrested prisoners was 76.6%.

rehabilitation not punishment

In the state of Colorado, it costs roughly $39,000/year to incarcerate just one individual. Colorado presents a useful test case because more than almost any other state, its focus on rehabilitation over punishment has helped it achieve a recidivism rate of 54% or more than an eye-popping 20 percentage points lower than the national average.

This can be attributed to a number of factors, such as recently adopted legislation to “ban the box,” an arcane, scarlet letter-type approach that prevented formerly incarcerated individuals from finding housing and employment (13 states nationwide have now “banned the box”). More broadly, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) has invested in innovative rehabilitation programs that help inmates find work, save money, and even launch their own businesses before they’re released.

While U.S. justice system efforts have traditionally focused on punishment by locking individuals up, attempts to decrease the likelihood of reoffending through rehabilitation lag well behind. Today, some prisons offer rehabilitation programs designed to help inmates more easily adjust to conditions outside of prison once they are released. Learn more about how Art for Redemption™ aims to help incarcerated individuals become contributing members of society through their artwork.

Recidivism From education programs that cover functional skills beyond traditional academic programs to programs that center on counseling, wellness, community, and employment rehabilitation, these programs are often aimed at helping offenders acquire job skills, overcome substance abuse problems, or learn how to deal with common challenges they may face upon release. Providing inmates rehabilitation programs offers countless benefits to the individual inmate as well as the community that the inmate will reenter upon release.

According to Dean Williams, the DOC’s executive director, such in- prison rehabilitation programs can both slow the revolving door between prison and society and help reduce Colorado’s swelling prison population. Taking an approach that focuses less on institutionalization and more on preparedness for life after incarceration is allowing people to serve their time in halfway houses while making a living wage, and the data shows that this approach is working.

Williams has recently helped enact a first-of-its-kind program to allow inmates in the Colorado prison system the ability to legally sell their artwork through Art for Redemption™ to help earn money to pay back child support and restitution while incarcerated.


Incarceration is the main form of punishment and rehabilitation for the commission of a felony and other criminal offenses in the United States.

The Prison Policy Initiative found the American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails, as well as in military prisons,  immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

revolving door

The Vera Institute of Justice found that the prison incarceration rate in the U.S. was 450 people in prison per 100,000 residents. Also, per the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States has the highest per-capita incarceration rate.

A cost study performed by the Vera Institute of Justice found that the average per-inmate cost of incarceration among the 40 states surveyed was $31,286 per year. In Colorado, that cost jumps up to $39,000/year.


Number one incarceration in the worldrate of incarceration 



A fundamental concept in criminal justice, recidivism is a person’s propensity to relapse into criminal behavior, usually after receiving sanctions or undergoing intervention for a previous crime. It is measured by criminal acts that resulted in rearrest, reconviction, or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a period of time following the prisoner’s release.

  • According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, within three years of release from state prison, 67.8% of released prisoners were rearrested.
  • The same Bureau of Justice Statistics study found inmates released from state prisons have a five-year recidivism rate of 76.6%
  • According to the results of a U.S. Sentencing Commission study, federal prisoners have a 44.7% rearrest rate after five years.

cost of incarcerationWhile there are many factors in recidivism, such as the individual’s circumstances before incarceration, events during their incarceration, and the period after they are released from prison, both immediate and long term, one of the main reasons why these individuals find themselves back in jail is because it can be difficult to establish a normal life again.

However, most research regarding recidivism indicates that ex-inmates who obtain employment after release from prison tend to have lower rates of recidivism. Additionally, when inmates use educational programs while incarcerated, the U.S. Department of Justice found they are roughly 43% less likely to recidivate than those who received no education while incarcerated.

Learn more about Art for Redemption™ and how we are helping to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals through art.


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