Short-term jail sentences, long-term impacts: A research update

For my research project, I am writing an article to be submitted to the Journal of Poetry Therapy. This journal focuses on interdisciplinary practice, theory, research, and education. Lately, I have been reading past issues and articles, in an attempt to determine the framework for my article. After reading, it seems that most articles begin with a theoretical framework, typically relating to poetry, journal, narrative writing, etc. as a rewarding therapeutic tool for healing or self-help. Authors will then apply various theories to their work with journal therapy and/or other writing programs. This has been a very enlightening experience, reading about the diverse applications of journal therapy. For instance, in schools with younger children, among the elderly, and among substance-users. There are few articles relating to writing in correctional settings, thus my decision to submit an article to this journal. I am hoping to frame the article as filling a gap in research relating to journal and poetry therapy with incarcerated populations.

Furthermore, there is a great dearth of information relating to the effectiveness of writing programs, in terms of tangible outcomes. For example, many articles I have read state the need for program evaluation and assessment, as it relates to the health and lifestyle effects of participation. It is clear that journal therapy can produce positive mental health effects, but there is little quantitative data to support these findings. Although I am not proposing a quantitative study of the effects of jail writing, I do plan to investigate other resources relating to the effects of rehabilitation, therapeutic and alternative programming on correctional populations. Namely, how participation in these programs effects recidivism (re-offending), increased life chances following incarceration, and psychological measures, such as self-perception and emotional healing (similar to what was discussed in the meeting earlier).

I will argue for the importance of therapeutic programming in jails, in light of their short-term nature: individuals incarcerated in jails are typically serving sentences up to one year. However, this is not always the case as a few of the writers in the men’s group have been and will be held in jail for longer than the customary one-year incarceration period. This is due to overcrowding in prisons, unavailability of space in other correctional facilities (i.e. drug treatment programs), and long wait times for sentencing. I digress. Due to the “revolving door of criminal justice,” most notably in short-term settings such as jails, journal and poetry therapy programs have an opportunity to create positive change in those while incarcerated. I am not arguing that these programs will prevent re-offending, but rather will assist in making time in jail less…well, gruesome. Participation in SpeakOut and similar programs may instill a sense of productivity, as well as supply a creative outlet for processing one’s incarceration and other life experiences.

In discussing the benefits of journal therapy as applied to correctional settings, I plan to draw on my experiences at SpeakOut although I am still uncertain of the depth to which my involvement will be discussed. As much as I would like to draw on the positive feedback and reaction to the program expressed by many of the men, I am afraid I would have to go through IRB to get permission to do so. Thus, a road-block! Or writers-block, I suppose 🙂

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