How do arts education and juvenile justice intersect?

Arts education has been proven to have a positive impact on youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The arts assist youth in building the necessary skills – like social and emotional awareness and problem–solving skills – to strengthen one’s self–regulation and sense of self–worth. Whether arts programming is integrated before, during or after involvement in the juvenile justice system, these programs all focus on producing positive youth outcomes by providing meaningful creative experiences.

This page provides a variety of resources, including program examples and policy information, related to engaging the arts across the juvenile justice spectrum. Through this page, AEP seeks to make information from the field more easily accessible and hopes to help foster new connections in this space.

These artworks were created by students in the Youth Art: Unlocked and Austin Classical Guitar programs.

Of the 1.9 million people incarcerated in the United States, about 35,500 are youth being held in confinement. Most of these youth are held within the juvenile justice system for a variety of offenses, however some youth are confined for noncriminal acts. There are ≈2,700 youth confined for noncriminal violations of probation and ≈700 youth confined for “status” offenses, like truancy or running away, that are noncriminal acts but are considered law violations because of a youth’s status as a minor. With one-in-three youth who are held in confinement being held for noncriminal acts, there are also ≈8,000 youth refugees being held within the immigration system who are awaiting placement. There are an additional ≈2,340 youth who are held in adult justice systems, whether that’s jail (≈1,900 youth) or prison (≈440 youth).

Confined youth statistics graph, 35,500 total confined youth, 25,000 in juvenile justice systems, 2,340 in adult justice systems, 8,000 in immigration systems.

Cover of All of Me by John Legend | Guitar part recorded by an Austin Classical Guitar student at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Sung by Claudia Chapa, second guitar by Arnold Yzaguirre.

Cover of All of Me by John Legend | Guitar part recorded by an Austin Classical Guitar student at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Sung by Claudia Chapa, second guitar by Arnold Yzaguirre.

What components make up arts education in juvenile justice systems?

What state level policies exist to support arts education in juvenile justice systems?

The Every Student Succeeds Act includes the arts as part of a well-rounded education, which allows federal funds to be utilized for arts learning in both traditional schools and detention facilities. Specifically, Local Education Agencies can approve facilities to use Title I funds to improve the academic environments, including providing improved curriculum and transitional services for youth. Although the opportunity to utilize funds for the arts in juvenile justice facilities is available, it does not always translate to practice.  

Education in juvenile justice facilities often falls short of providing quality educational opportunities for youth to engage and flourish academically, and implementation varies among states and districts. Policy recommendations to leverage governance, accountability and finance to improve the quality of juvenile justice education have gained traction to address this disparity. 

State policymaking in this space straddles multiple agencies responsible for implementation, often involving education, arts, justice and health and human service agencies. This can further contribute to a disconnect between policy adoption and implementation. There are few states who have adopted policies explicitly related to arts programming opportunities for youth involved in the justice system to address this unique challenge. Explore three of these policies below:  

Louisiana state statute declares that juvenile justice facilities may establish arts-based programming like performing arts, visual arts and other arts activities that enhance youth development.

Under Nevada state statute, a child who has not previously been adjudicated delinquent or in need of supervision, and the unlawful act committed by the delinquent child did not involve the use or threatened use of force or violence against a victim, can be ordered by the juvenile court to complete an alternative arts program.

New Jersey state statute requires that the New Jersey State Arts Council creates and disseminates a best practices guide for developing and expanding arts programs for youth at risk of juvenile delinquency. This statute outlines the required components of these programs, including incorporating an evaluation system early into the program.

What resources exist to support arts education in juvenile justice systems?

What are some examples of arts education programs in juvenile justice systems?

Youth Arts: Unlocked


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New York

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Raw Art Works


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Art from Ashes


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The Imagine Bus Project


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Free Verse


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Performing Statistics


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Keshet Arts

New Mexico

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Baltimore Youth Arts


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Big Thought


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Mural Arts Philadelphia


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My Voice Music


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NeON Arts

New York

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Arts Midwest

Midwest Region

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Austin Classical Guitar


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A Reason To Survive


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Carnegie Hall


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Miami Music Project


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This resource is not meant to be a conclusive interpretation on this topic but rather a prompt to activate conversations, ideas and further inquiries. Recognizing that we are all part of a community of people who are learning and working independently and collectively, this resource will remain responsive and adaptable.

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About the Author

Daizha Brown

Policy Analyst

In her role as a policy analyst, Daizha provides relevant information on various education policy topics for state-level education leaders. Prior to joining the Arts Education Partnership, Daizha completed her bachelor’s degree in political science at Colorado State University where she gained experience in policy research and the nonprofit sector. In her own education journey, Daizha believes in creating equitable education policies to ensure all students in this country have a fair opportunity to pursue a comprehensive education.


There are multiple points throughout the juvenile justice process where arts–based programs can intervene in the lives of youth involved in the system, including during initial contact, correctional placement and reentry. Many of these programs enter juvenile correctional facilities to offer arts activities with support from teaching artists, but there are also diversion and alternative school program opportunities to engage the arts as well. The overall goal of these programs is to reduce recidivism through creative practices that allow youth to grow and discover future possibilities for themselves. 

Baltimore Youth Arts – This program provides entrepreneurship and job training initiatives that support artistic and professional opportunities to young people ages 14–25, focusing on young people involved in the justice system. (Maryland)

Free Verse – Serving youth incarcerated in both juvenile detention centers and inpatient treatment centers, this organization provides arts and humanities–based educational programming within facilities. In 2023, the organization expanded programming to to serve non-incarcerated, justice–involved youth. (Montana)

NOMADstudio – NOMADstudio has developed their Justice Studio in-house after–school art studio program at the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center where teaching artists host creative sessions with incarcerated students multiple times a week. (Florida)

Performing Statistics – This organization utilizes a variety of art mediums and storytelling to work with youth most impacted by the juvenile justice system to advocate for a world without incarceration. (Virginia)


One of the most effective ways to reduce risk factors that may increase juvenile delinquent behaviors is to introduce preventative programs early on to assist children, families and their communities. Preventative programs that incorporate arts–based activities help children develop and strengthen cognitive, regulatory and social and emotional skills that can positively influence their academic and future workforce trajectory.

Miami Music Project – This program aims to empower children to develop values of community, develop creativity, obtain excellence, improve school performance and strengthen family dynamics through studying and performing music. (Florida)

Raw Art Works – Recognizing the unique stories of children, this program provides free painting and filmmaking experiences for kids in grades 4–12 to explore and envision different possibilities for their futures. (Massachusetts)

Arts For Ashes – This program encourages creative transformation through the power of artistic expression among high–risk youth age 9–24 years old. The program developed the award–winning Drawing on Air curriculum which uses expression, connection, and transformation to facilitate youth resiliency and artistic competence through visual and tactile art. (Colorado)


Youth in the juvenile justice system are commonly exposed to trauma in some capacity, whether before, during or after involvement in the system. Arts–based healing programs address these traumas and help youth build resilience, strengthen coping skills and foster positive self–esteem through modes of art therapy. Arts education and art therapy work hand–in–hand in the juvenile justice space, often overlapping and supporting each other. By offering opportunities for self–expression and reflection , youth can heal in safe environments with trauma-informed supports.  

A Reason To Survive (ARTS) – The ARTS 4 Justice initiative connects system-involved young people with arts programming and community-based projects to address the root causes of systemic violence and injustice in communities across south San Diego. (California)

Mural Arts Philadelphia – This organization offers their Restorative Practices Youth program that provides art and healing-centered engagements to students impacted by the juvenile justice system and transitioning out of foster care networks with hopes of empowering students to discover their creative voices. (Pennsylvania)

My Voice Music – This organization offers community satellite programs that provide instruments and instruction for music groups and recording sessions at mental health treatment centers, juvenile justice facilities, refugee resettlement centers, and social service agencies throughout Oregon. (Oregon)

NeOn Arts – This program is a collaboration between the New York City Department of Probation (DOP) and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute to integrate arts programming within community-based probation centers located throughout New York City, serving young people ages 16–24 years old. (New York)


Transition programs provide support services for youth who are reentering society from out–of–home placements. Arts–based transitional programs involve collaboration among placement facilities (including correctional institutions), schools, families and communities to provide arts activities that assist youth development for a successful transition.

Big Thought – This organization offers their Creative Solutions program- an arts–as–workforce intervention program for youth who have encountered the justice system. (Texas)

Keshet Arts – Through different justice initiatives, this organization offers post–release arts programming for previously incarcerated young artists/students. Originally focusing on dance programming, the organization has expanded and seeks to increase  community–based and arts-based resources and resource-connectivity. (New Mexico)

The Imagine Bus Project – This organization administers the Arts On The Outs 9–month reentry program for youth who have been released from a juvenile institution. This program provides arts education, individualized life skill building with a case manager, and arts employment. (California)

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits