Although the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and music therapy has existed in U.S. correctional facilities for almost a century, little is known about music therapists who provide services to people who are incarcerated. Exploration in this area is important as it could help inform clinical practice, music therapy curriculum, and potentially influence policy in the treatment of inmates. This study explores the philosophy, practices, and protocols of music therapists working in the U.S. corrections system. Board-certified music therapists ( N = 542) completed an online survey in which they indicated their reasons for working or not working in corrections. Participants who worked in corrections (n = 52) answered additional questions about their religious beliefs and political affiliation, music therapy practices in corrections, and protocols at their facility related to provision of music therapy services. The results of this survey revealed differences in demographic variables for music therapists who worked in prisons, who were significantly more likely to be men, χ2 (1) = 6.57, p = .015, or under-represented racial minorities, χ2 (1) = 5.82, p = .021, than music therapists who did not work in prisons, who were representative of music therapists in the U.S. (almost 90% white women). The majority of respondents who worked in corrections reported they were Democrats and more than half reported that their religious and/or spiritual views did not influence their decision to work in corrections. Music therapists most frequently addressed emotional awareness, impulse control, and self-awareness through music listening, discussion, and playing instruments. We discuss results in the context of current efforts to improve rehabilitation and treatment services within the U.S. correctional system.

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Published in Voices, v. 22, no. 1.

Copyright (c) 2022 Lorna E. Segall, Olivia S. Yinger

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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