Skip to main content

The Social-Emotional Impact of Arts-based Education on Formerly Incarcerated Young Black Men


October 22, 2019

(HOUSTON, TX) – Formerly incarcerated Black men enrolled in alternative schools with arts-based programming reflected healthier development and positive academic achievement transitioning into adulthood, according to research from the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston. 

As part of his dissertation study, Dr. Charles Lea collected data that consisted of observations and interviews with school instructors, administrators, and formerly incarcerated Black male students age 18-25 attending an alternative high school located in Los Angeles County that offers arts-based programming. 

Young Black men who participated in the study expressed their difficulties reentering society since their early incarceration experiences slowed their academic progress and had significant social and emotional impacts. Prime examples faced by the young men were issues finding fair housing and stable employment; often this left many to seek the refuge of gangs and illegal activities as a means of social, economic, and emotional support.

The study found that young Black men who participated in art-related activities such as poetry and music focusing on the Black experience allowed them an opportunity for self-expression, reflection, and critical thinking. The study also found that providing students a safe space to build positive relationships with other students from similar backgrounds to be a critical contributor to their academic performance and successful social-emotional development. 

“The research study ties to GCSW’s vision to achieve social and racial justice because its findings provide insights regarding how the mechanisms within an arts-based program in an alternative school can support the healthy development and academic achievement of formerly incarcerated young Black men transitioning into adulthood” wrote Charles Lea, lead author and assistant professor at the Graduate School of Social Work. 

The paper was published on August 6 in the American Journal of Community Psychology.