In May, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to stop placing incarcerated youth in solitary confinement (except in extreme cases). Now, the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network is working to transform those special housing units–or SHUs–into cultural hubs, “cooling down” areas, and “hope centers.” At Camp Joseph Scott juvenile detention center in Santa Clarita, a new mural project has given a new outlet to the 25 girls in custody.
There are three juvenile halls, where young offenders are held before sentencing, and 12 camps currently open in L.A. County. Artists with the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network are working in 10 of those sites – aiming to keep schedules full by providing visual art, drumming, theater, poetry, creative writing classes and more.
The network is made up of the Armory Center for the Arts, Actors’ Gang, Coalition for Engaged Education, InsideOut Writers, Rhythm Arts Alliance, Street Poets, Inc., Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, WriteGirl/Bold Ink Writers and Jail Guitar Doors.
“We’re so eager to integrate arts both as a diversion and also as part of a successful re-entry strategy for the kids coming out,” said Kaile Shilling, executive director of the network. “Putting arts front and center, before, during and after helps.”
The programming is taking place in the afternoon or evening hours in 11-week cycles over the coming year. The county is field testing the programs at these sites, with an eye toward a new juvenile facility that will open in the spring. Campus Kilpatrick will have a “trauma-informed” approach, focusing less on discipline and more on rehabilitation. It will not have a SHU at all. And the L.A. County Arts Commission is working with probation to embed arts at core of the curriculum as part of the rehabilitation process.
“I’ve seen over the years the ebb and flow of different theories of how to handle kids who are detained,” said Sherry Gold, justice deputy for board supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion restricting the use of solitary. “It’s my opinion that it’s about time that we’re recognizing that arts are a very important part of a program.”
This story was originally published on June 10th, 2016.