Correctional Insights

The Musical Chord of Incarceration and Music Therapy

Music is a powerful and timeless stimulant, uniting body and mind in rhythm. Eliciting strong memories, it can be used as a therapeutic method to deal with stress, reshape behavior and encourage emotional development. In the 2011 movie, The Music Never Stopped, estranged son Gabriel is no longer able to form new memories due to a brain tumor. His father, Henry, seeks help and reunites with his son through musical therapy. Father and son are able to enjoy a relationship again while listening to the Grateful Dead because of the memories the sounds invokes for Gabriel. In real life, music therapy is used in a variety of settings, and some jails and prisons have incorporated it in an effort to rehabilitate offenders of all ages. Learn how music therapy can be used in prison reform to help achieve civil behavior both inside and outside the prison walls.

What is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy is the “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” It can be used to improve:

  • Emotional development
  • Social skills
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Motor skills

Therapy methods can include:

  • Listening to songs
  • Singing alone or with a group
  • Playing instruments
  • Dance and movement

How Music Therapy Can Help Inmates

Inmates represent all ages, races, and backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: memories associated with music. Because incarcerated populations experience a variety of behavioral, social, psychological and communicative challenges, music therapy can strike the right chord to connect the notes and create positive change for multiple needs simultaneously. Research has shown that anxiety was reduced in participating inmates after only two weeks of music therapy.

Just as music can assist in physical rehabilitation, it can also mark time in the prison setting to sculpt cognitive and behavioral rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is facilitated through memory when inmates hear the songs they remember from their lives before prison. The therapist understands that these memories may not all be positive and can use negative reactions to provoke discussions and encourage change. Harmonies experienced for the first time, or created by the inmates themselves, can be used to counter negative behavior and thought patterns and introduce new positive ones.

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) can help with memory training through a variety of techniques:

  • Echoic Mnemonics Training works with memory recall and the senses registered by the memories.
  • Procedural Mnemonics develops an understanding of rules and the skills necessary to abide by them.
  • Declarative Mnemonics deals with episodic memories.
  • Associative Mood and Memory Training helps identify moods and how they shape behavior.

By identifying mood and behavior, the inmate and therapist can work together to rewrite responses so the inmate can function as a law-abiding citizen. Some specific goals in correctional facilities that are encouraged by the AMTA include:

  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Improving reality testing and problem-solving skills
  • Improving respect for others, including peers and authority figures
  • Developing healthy verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Decreasing impulsiveness through practical techniques
  • Accepting responsibility for thoughts and feelings
  • Learning relaxation and coping skills
  • Improving physical conditioning
  • Developing effective leisure skills
  • Exploring feelings and making positive changes in mood states

Additionally, many inmates battle with drug addiction and psychological disorders. Music therapy may also assist in specialized rehab treatment in these cases. For inmates with substance abuse problems and mental health problems, this kind of therapy can provide treatment in the five stages of diagnostic treatment:

  1. Engagement
  2. Crisis intervention
  3. Stabilization
  4. Active treatment
  5. Recovery

The Down Beat

Like any therapeutic treatment, the outcome depends not only on the expertise of the practitioner but also the willingness of the patient to make the necessary changes to achieve his or her goals. Multiple factors determine the effectiveness of any therapy, including music therapy:

  • Age, gender and socioeconomic background of the offender
  • Cognitive, physical, emotional and psychological state of the offender
  • Amount of time spent in correctional facilities
  • Degree of connection with family, friends, and community
  • Social pressures to conform or not conform to the environment
  • Substance, physical, sexual or emotional abuse

Some offenders may not respond to music, or they may respond negatively due to negative memories elicited by it. Although a well-trained therapist will have proven techniques at his or her disposal to counter negative responses, the final responsibility lies with the inmate to change the response to a positive one.

Another downside to music therapy is the effect of “escaping reality.” Although this can be a positive result and help the inmate feel empowered to make the necessary changes in life, it can also have negative effects. If not carefully monitored, the freedom factor of music may empower the inmate to revolt against the pressures of conformity and choose to revert back to a life of crime. Careful documentation of every inmate’s progress may or may not alert practitioners to this circumstance.

Music is a universal language that can be used and enjoyed in many ways. With the help of qualified therapists, prison reform may be possible for some inmates. Only time will tell.


The Missing Man in Prison Reform: Father Figures

A family has always been an integral factor in a person’s development. When a parent is absent, children must rely on other sources to mold their concepts about the world. Traditionally, the father figure in families provides children with security, discipline, and guidance for morals and everyday life. When the father is absent, children may have a less balanced view of the world around them and often turn to risky behavior to seek approval from surrogate father figures. This can lead to delinquency, crime, and incarceration when left unaddressed. Learn how this “missing man” concept relates to the father factor and increases crime and incarceration rates for youth and adults.

The “Father Factor” Defined

According to the U.S. Census, there are an estimated 70.1 million fathers in the United States. 24.7 million of those have children under the age of 18 and live as a married couple in the same household. Two million fathers are single parents, but only 17 percent of those have full-time custody of their children.

The latest numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that out of the 1.5 million total inmates (male and female) in the United States, over 809,000 were parents of minor children. Depending on the race, between 45 and 70 percent of all male inmates reported having at least one minor child. Only 35 percent of fathers incarcerated in state prisons reported living with at least one of their biological children in the month prior to their arrest.

The father factor refers to the effects upon children when their biological fathers are absent. In addition to effects such as increased delinquency, crime rates, and incarceration, the absence of a biological father also impacts:

  • Mother and child health
  • Emotional and behavioral development
  • Teen pregnancy rates
  • Reduction of education levels achieved
  • Increased child abuse
  • Increased drug and alcohol abuse
  • Childhood obesity

How Absent Fathers Affect Crime Rates

Good relationships between a biological father and his children reduce the risk of adolescent misbehavior that leads to crime, as well as reducing criminal behavior itself. When fathers are present in the home, adolescents are less likely to commit delinquent acts. When communication and a positive relationship exists between a child and an in-home father, delinquency rates are decreased even further. This is especially true for male children.

But when the father is absent, the risk for his children to commit crime goes up — and so does the risk for other children in the neighborhood. Studies have found that not only are adolescents from single-parent homes at higher risk of committing a crime, but it also has an influence on the other adolescents attending the same schools. Risks were found to be higher for status, property and person crimes in schools with high rates of single-parent homes.

Incarceration Rates

Research has shown that incarceration rates are higher for children who grow up in homes without a biological father present. The highest rates were for those children who had never lived with their father. In a Department of Justice survey, statistics were compiled for the previous living situations of jail inmates. The survey found that:

  • 39 percent had lived in “mother-only” households.
  • 46 percent had a family member who had previously been incarcerated.
  • 20 percent were children of fathers who had been in prison or jail.

Solutions for Prison Reform

Ideally, all these problems would be solved by creating a stronger, two-parent household for all children in which the biological parents played supportive and loving roles in the development of the children throughout their entire childhoods. But reuniting parents with their children is also a viable solution for addressing these issues and suitable for prison reform.

Using a cognitive-behavioral approach to address criminogenic needs is one of the methods recommended by the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. By changing attitudes, building parenting skills and confidence, increasing parental knowledge and improving family contact, programs with this approach teach men to be better dads both inside of prison and in the community once they are released.

Mentoring programs can help reduce recidivism rates and provide for a more successful reentry into the community and family life. A mentor can help educate fathers and give them a vision of what a crime-free life looks like. Encouragement and connection from someone who has been in their shoes show them that life without crime is possible and attainable.

After implementing this type of training program for incarcerated fathers within the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Kentucky experienced a 57 percent decrease in recidivism rates for men who completed the program. The program provided training while in prison to address:

  • Criminal and family history
  • Relationships with spouses and children
  • How to obtain education and employment upon release
  • Appropriate leisure and recreational activities

After release, mentors continued to train the men during their transition back into the community and their family life.

While there are many factors related to the choice of committing a crime, building a stronger family with a fatherly influence is one solution that’s achievable. Through appropriate training programs both inside and outside of prison, men can become fathers with healthy family relationships and leave behind the life of crime.

Correctional Insights

Noise and its Impact on Inmates in a Correctional Facility

Prisons aren’t exactly the quietest of environments. On the other hand, popular media’s depictions of inmates shouting and banging cups against cell bars are just as unrealistic. Keeping decorum in a correctional facility may seem like challenging, but the impact of noise on guards and inmates can be detrimental to overall health. Learn the effects of jail noise on health and behavior and why auditory control should be a top priority.

What Is Noise?

Noise is hard to define due to it’s subjective nature. Typically, it is associated with either loud bursts of sound or continuous sounds of varying levels. Defining a sound as noise depends on many factors:

  • Type of sound and origin
  • Loudness and frequency
  • Duration and variance
  • Information content and relative importance
  • Emotional tolerance level of person hearing the sound
  • Background sound level

Outside of a correctional facility, a weather alert alarm, for example, may not be a welcomed sound, but it may not be unwanted because of the underlying intent to inform people of impending disaster in order to provide time to escape. In contrast, the same sound heard multiple times as part of a neighbor’s party music is more likely to gain an upgrade to “noise.” Inside a prison, noise may come from alarms, yelling, pounding, trash-talk, environmental systems (such as heating and air conditioning), kitchen or other facility equipment, or even outbursts from new inmates who may still be under the influence of drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Particular decibel (dB) levels are often used to define noise by law, but enforcement rarely takes place through precise measurement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has defined acceptable levels for noise outside of correctional facilities as 40 dB(A) for classrooms, 50 dB(A) for general office areas and 58 dB(A) for light industrial spaces. The American Correctional Association has set noise standards for prison and jail housing units not to exceed 70 dB(A) for daytime hours and 45 dB(A) for nighttime hours. Although regulations may vary by country and setting, long-term exposure to sound above 50 dB(A) can cause serious health risks, such as heart attack and hypertension.

Adverse Health Effects

Prolonged exposure to unwanted sound can cause many health problems and lead to behavioral issues, ranging from single-episode or minimal occurrence to serious health risks leading to death. Health concerns include:

  • Annoyance
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing impairment and loss
  • Immune deficiency
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cortisol and adrenaline
  • Headaches
  • Vertigo

None of these health concerns are good for any person regardless of where they reside. But when unwanted sound impacts an inmate’s health, the resulting behavior may be worse due to a limited ability to escape the noise. Increased annoyance combined with elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels produces aggressive behavior, which may create further health problems and noise. Sleep disturbance and fatigue reduce compliance with rules and tolerance of behavior and noise. The more serious health issues lead to an increased spending on medications, health monitoring, and infirmary visits.

Special Concerns for Adolescent Inmates

In correctional facilities housing adolescent offenders, noise may be even more of a problem. With increased hormone levels and fluctuations during the teen and young adult years, noise may cause even more drastic episodes of the health issues previously mentioned. Speech perception continues to develop until the early teen years, so noise exposure in the adolescent inmate population can affect cognitive development as well as physical and mental health, leading to increased behavioral problems.

Behavioral Considerations

Excessive sound levels affect more than just health. The it creates contributes to undesirable and unsafe behavior by inmates. This includes:

  • Increased aggression
  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased compliance and cooperation
  • Difficulty for staff in maintaining control and safety

The longer inmates are exposed to these effects, the more serious that their behavior, safety, and health risks may become.

Solutions for Noise Control

However, even with all these included risk-factors, complete silence may not be the answer. There are solutions to help control sound in correctional facilities. For new facilities, implementing noise-reducing design and construction processes include:

  • Incorporating acoustic materials at least an inch thick
  • Designing irregularly shaped rooms
  • Leaving air space behind acoustic materials to absorb sound

But for older facilities, sound may need to be reduced by:

  • Grafting fabric to furniture
  • Adding carpet to high-traffic areas
  • Adding acoustic materials to ceilings, walls and near other sources of sound

Budgets are often stretched, but the savings in medical supplies, stress reduction and overall environmental and attitude changes will outweigh the costs of noise-reducing materials. Reducing the amount of noise in correctional facilities will not only contribute to healthier inmates and an increased ability to deal with re-entry to society, but it will also relieve the stress of correctional staff in maintaining a safe and controlled environment.