Our Work


In December 2018, the Board of Supervisors passed the Investing in Justice-Involved Individuals Through the Arts motion, directing the Department of Arts and Culture and other County agencies to develop recommendations for further elevating and sustaining the arts as a criminal justice reform strategy. This work was galvanized when our arts and criminal justice reform efforts with the Probation Department were recognized by the national Art for Justice Fund grant award.

Key Strategies, Work Undertaken, & Growth Opportunities


Cross Training

Since 2015, Probation officers from across the County have consistently participated in professional development focused on ways the arts can promote self-care and social-emotional wellbeing in adults as well as youth. Likewise, teaching artists from the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network regularly join County staff in cross-sector training focused on the components and approaches of the LA Model.

LA County Partners

  • Arts and Culture
  • Department of Mental Health
  • Office of Education
  • Probation Department
Community Partner

  • Arts for Incarcerated Youth

Arts Instruction for Probation-Involved Youth

Arts and Culture oversees the work of teaching artists who provide year-round arts instruction to youth in the nine Probation camps and three juvenile halls across LA County. Instruction in music, dance, theatre, visual art and creative writing promotes skill building in the arts as well as social-emotional development. Following every 12-week cycle of instruction, students demonstrate and celebrate their learning through performances, exhibitions or mural dedications. Arts instruction is also offered throughout the school year in six high schools associated with the Probation Department’s five Juvenile Day Reporting Centers, which serve youth who have mandatory check-in requirements from the Court or their Probation officers. In this context, the arts help support the Centers’ aim to reduce recidivism by engaging participants in activities that promote positive behaviors, rehabilitation, school success and workforce readiness. Over the next two years, Arts and Culture aims to develop coordinated reentry systems following release that include pathways to jobs in the creative economy (see the “4. Teen Arts Pathways” recommendation in the Cultural Equity and Inclusion report).

LA County Partners

  • Arts and Culture
  • Probation Department
Community Partners

  • Arts for incarcerated Youth Network
  • Drumming fro Your Life Institute

Diversion

Arts and Culture and the newly formed Youth Diversion & Development unit (YDD) of the LA County Department of Health Services’ Office of Diversion and Reentry are exploring ways the arts can play a role in diverting youth away from involvement with the juvenile justice system. As a first step, Integrated Arts Education was identified as a holistic, evidence-informed service included in YDD’s recent Work Order Solicitation for Youth Intensive Case Management Services. This is the first of successive efforts to secure contracts with organizations that can provide diversion services to youth referred to community-based programs in lieu of arrest or citation. Over the next two years, Arts and Culture aims to embed arts education into all diversion efforts.

LA County Partners

  • Arts and Culture
  • Department of Health Services, Office of Diversion and Reentry, Youth Diversion & Development Unit

Community and School-Based Arts Instruction

Arts and Culture oversees teaching artists and community-based organizations providing arts instruction and mentorship for youth in high-risk areas to deter involvement in the juvenile justice system. This work currently takes place at three housing centers, two community parks and three additional public high schools/continuation schools located across the County. In spring 2018, the arts were included in the County’s Trauma Prevention Initiative, providing arts-based, community building activities in Willowbrook and Westmont-West Athens. Over the next two years, Arts and Culture aims to deepen its partnership with the Department of Mental Health and the Office of Child Protection’s Education Coordinating Council to promote well-being at school campuses through healing-informed arts instruction for students, professional development for educators, parent and community engagement and coordination among education and mental health stakeholders at middle and high schools within each Supervisorial District.

LA County Partners

  • Arts and Culture
  • Department of Children and Family Services, Office of Child Protection, Education Coordinating Council
  • Department of Mental Health
  • Department of Parks & Recreation
  • Department of Public Health
  • Probation Department
Community Partners

  • Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network
  • Spirit Awakening

Arts as a Justice Reform Strategy

The arts are a vital aspect of well-being and human development, and can strengthen individual resilience, bolster self-awareness, increase positive community involvement, and open pathways to careers in the region’s vibrant creative economy. Additionally, the presence of cultural resources in communities have been significantly correlated with positive social wellbeing indicators including health, educational attainment, and public safety, especially in low-income communities. Finally, the arts can play a unique role in supporting narrative change and cultural inclusion. Stories shape history and inform human experience, and many communities have had their stories eclipsed by dominant culture.

In the criminal justice context, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals suffer additional trauma and isolation as a result of societal stigma. Narrative change through the arts brings forward the stories, experiences and emotions of those affected by the justice system to be heard, felt and embraced by the broader community. As such, we view arts and culture not only as having intrinsic value in and of themselves, but as a holistic part of thriving communities – with equitable access to cultural resources as a key strategy in addressing justice involvement and its related issues and root causes.

While the arts alone will not resolve the many challenges inherent in the County’s justice system, they do provide important tools that can be used in cross-sector efforts to fortify much needed reforms. We are confident that the outcomes from this work will stand in sharp contrast to the isolating, punitive, and stigmatizing practices that for too long were perpetuated in the justice system.

Have Questions?

If you have questions or would like additional information about this work, please contact Gregg Johnson, Program Manager, Arts Education at 213-202-5933 or gjohnson@arts.lacounty.gov