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Tim Robbins and Wayne Kramer show support for arts in prisons

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Actor-director Tim Robbins and guitarist Wayne Kramer were among a handful of local cultural leaders to voice their support on Friday for programs that bring the arts to prisons and other correctional facilities around the country. 

The event was a hearing in downtown Los Angeles intended to address the efficacy of the arts as a rehabilitative tool in the correctional system. The discussion, held at the Grammy Museum at L.A Live, was moderated by California state Sen. Curren Price, who serves as chairman of the joint committee on the arts. 

Robbins voiced his concern that state policies emphasizing inmate labor has made it difficult for many to attend arts sessions.

"It seems counterproductive to place more importance on an inmate's labor hours than their rehabilitation programs," he said.

Under Robbins' leadership, The Actor's Gang has presented theater workshops at facilities in Chino, Folsom and Norco for the last six years. The workshops are participatory events in which inmates are invited to act in commedia dell'arte-style scenarios.

"It is my hope and the hope of all of us at the Actors' Gang that this hearing will be the start of a shift in state policy on rehabilitation and a recognition of the absolute necessity of arts programs in rehabilitation," Robbins said.

Kramer introduced himself as an ex-convict -- a reference to the time he spent in jail on a drug-related conviction during the '70s. The guitarist said that the arts allow inmates to express themselves in "non-confrontational ways" and can sometimes act as a form of anger management.

"Offender rehabilitation is the only rational response to our incoherent prison policies of human warehousing," he said.

Kramer is a co-founder of Jail Guitar Doors, a nonprofit group that provides guitars and other musical resources to inmates. The program operates in several states throughout the country.

Craig Watson, the head of the California Arts Council, also spoke during the hearing. Other panelists included artist Tom Skelly and Laurie Brooks, director of the William James Assn., a group that promotes work service in the arts, education and other fields.

Here's the full video of Friday's panel discussions. 

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