Sean Taylor

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Owen Smith

Second Committee Member

Nate Aldrich

Third Committee Member

Randy Regier


Art is a powerful force of social introspection. It does more than communicate an idea, emotion, or aesthetic. Further, art communicates nuances and aspects of a situation that cannot be communicated in any other medium. Additionally, artists engage in political and social discussions using artistic problem solving and irregular perspectives to offer creative solutions that are only effective thru art-based mediums.

This paper describes factors contributing to the failure of the American corrections system in regard to reducing crime and diminishing penal recidivism. Also, this paper examines the efficacy of using art to generate empathy for convicts caught up in a broken system. The ways by which the American prison structure exacerbates crime in America will be highlighted, as well as unintended outcomes will be discussed. For example, the skyrocketing incarceration rate as a primary contributing factor to a broken penal system will be explored. Also, criminological studies, research papers, and other forms of literature documenting problems with the corrections system will be illustrated.

For instance, one such study highlights the existence of a growing empathy deficit between people labeled as criminal and the general public (Szalavitz & Perry, 2010). This deficit is growing rapidly because influences in mass media continue to promote harsh punishment tactics that are not supported by facts. Other problems with the system include the privatization of the prison systems, and the process of the objectification of citizens as they are convicted. These problems are evidence of an apparent reversal of American ideals such as freedom, equality, fairness, and justice.

Many convicts are incarcerated for non-violent crimes like drug offenses and parole violations and thus, posed no imminent threat to society. As the prison problem worsens it is the duty of criminologists, sociologists, counselors, rehabilitation specialists, politicians, and voters to turn the tide of mass incarceration growth before the momentum becomes too much to overcome. It is the duty of artists to help define the problem, offer different perspectives, collaborate on solution-based teams in the field, and incite people to viscerally feel the need to change. As an artist with an internalized understanding of my potential to be a change agent, I offered incarcerated felons as well as society at-large the opportunity to develop empathy via artistic pathways. This thesis describes both-the present need for change, as well as my approach to pursuing a solution.