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As a creative medium of expression, music has allowed humans to transcend boundaries, overcome conflict, and identify with each other. I’ve authored previous blog posts about the usage of music in the medical field, but I’ve only scratched the surface of the benefits that it can provide. In fact, some of the most significant positive impacts of music can be found within the American judicial system. Juvenile detention centers have now long been known to incorporate non-profit musical mentorship programs into rehabilitation, and these have proven to be of tremendous importance to the welfare of those participating.

Carnegie Hall recently completed a research on the subject, in which they concluded that “acting out behaviors” were largely diminished among youths taking part in a cooperative and educational musical program. Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, a Harvard-educated researcher, analyzed the impact of aforementioned study and found that, shockingly enough, no fights or altercations whatsoever occurred during the three-week long preparation period. Furthermore, none of the participants dropped out of the program.

The project was a remarkable accomplishment considering the juveniles in question are likely to be participating in these programs despite past altercations with each other. When youth play music with each other, they are putting aside their former biases, convictions, and history. I’ve previously noted how music performance can unify a disparity of people, but this is perhaps one of the more impressive examples of how this can happen. These initiatives allow troubled children to connect outside of race and former gang affiliations. By giving these children the ability to express themselves with sound instead of fury, the juvenile detention center is offering them the chance to transcend the previous turmoil in their lives.

Bradley Pierre of the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, New York, stated, “[f]or some of those kids, it’s a transformative experience. They are totally different in that setting when they are expressing themselves through music.” Unfortunately, while arts and music programs in juvenile detention centers are of clear and obvious benefit to adolescents, they still lack enough data to make the positive benefits well known. Thus, the public funding backing these programs are slow to churn out more capital.

Dr. Dennie Wolf explained that “[p]oliticians and government officials have shifted strongly toward ‘evidence-based practice’.” While participants, mentors, and nonprofit managers preach of music’s tremendous ability to transform the lives of troubled children, the programs still do not receive the adequate fiscal support they deserve. Public officials largely look at “recidivism rates” (the rate at which participants will relapse into criminal behavior) to determine the effectiveness of these programs, yet the data for such recidivism rates does not yet exist. Questions of how to accurately quantify these rates still trouble nonprofit organizations, and as a result, these programs are slow to develop.

However, some have adopted programs anyway, such as the Arts and Music Program for Education in Detention Centers (AMPED) in Chicago. A yearlong process, AMPED pairs students with youth in juvenile detention centers, with the former teaching the latter music over the course of their time together. Mentoring sessions focus on both composition and performance, with a recital at the end of the program.

Music provides a truly invaluable opportunity for self-expression and complements standard STEM education. However, the intangibility of the benefits of music makes it difficult to integrate into modern society. Without the data to support these programs, the government cannot support funding initiatives.

Yet, as time goes on and public exposure increases, so will public funding. More data will be collected, and more children will benefit. While it may be frustrating that implementation of these programs has been spotty at best, more and more organizations are recognizing their benefits. Music’s ability to facilitate self-expression plays an unquantifiable role in our society, and must continue to play a valuable role in education.