Music-making behind bars: the many dimensions of community music in prisons

Cohen, M. L. and Henley, J. (2018) Music-making behind bars: the many dimensions of community music in prisons. In: The Oxford Handbook of Community Music. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 153-176. ISBN 9780190219505


Approaches to incarceration vary widely across the globe. As described within and throughout this book, approaches to and definitions of community music also differ in intricate ways. This chapter examines music-making in prisons, specifically led by people coming into U.S. and U.K. prison contexts, suggesting new insights into the values, applications, and meanings of community music. Contrasting approaches toward imprisonment exist not only across the globe, but also within particular countries. In the United States, for example, a wide range of practices within the contexts of imprisonment occur such as incarceration rates, lengths of sentences, use of capital punishment, voting rights for incarcerated people, and quality of legal representation, to name a few. Life behind bars restricts inmates’ opportunities for self-expression. Research and practice in music-making in prisons is newly developing and suggests that community music approaches within prisons provides a means toward desistance, improved self-esteem, social support, and a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, music-making within the complex power dynamics of prison contexts emphasizes the importance of the concepts of the welcome and hospitality within our understanding of community music.

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