Music to their ears: How creativity can reach incarcerated teens and offer hope

A blog posted by Professor Maud Hickey on the Huffington Post website in December 2015 extols the value of music classes to teenagers at a detention centre in Chicago.

Professor Hickey is an Associate Professor and the Co-ordinator of Music Education at Northwestern University, and has been facilitating a computer music composition class for the past five years at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago.

The nearly 700 residents who have been students in the classes have been composing prolifically and passionately about their hopes and dreams, their past and future lives, and their everyday distresses. For most of them, this was the first time they were asked – and allowed – to share feelings through a creative outlet. For nearly all of them, it was the first time they had stood proudly in front of their families, teachers and detention centre staff to play music they created after weeks of hard work.

“Research on the effectiveness of arts education in detention centers is scant but growing,” said Professor Hickey. “In the recently published Oxford Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education, my review of the research literature on music programs in detentions centers found that music programs produced extra-musical psychological outcomes, such as improved confidence and self-esteem, improvement in learning skills, as well as improved behavior and reduced recidivism.

“Harnessing the work around arts education in detention centers in order to organize and advocate for the integration of creative art making in these facilities is worthwhile. These programs provide humane and positive outlets for incarcerated youth. However there is a need for more research to show the effectiveness of these programs in order to get the attention of policy and curriculum writers.

“Though providing creative arts education in detention centers may not save lives, it will change lives. And that gives all of us hope.”


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