Interaction with the criminal justice system exacts substantial costs on human potential, and alternative practices are emerging to address this social issue. This research explores the integration of creative and expressive arts in a young adult problem-solving court. The Young Adult Diversion Court (YADC) was created to help young adults 17- 20 years of age complete requirements for probation. Successful completion of the program provides participants the opportunity for the initial criminal charge to be dismissed and made non-public on the criminal record. This qualitative study is informed by interpretive interactionism and narrative inquiry to provide a method to understand the lived experience of participants in the context of a problem- solving court. The purpose of this study is to explore how and why the YADC integrated creative and expressive arts to promote positive outcomes for young adults. Further, this study examines the lived experience of young adult participants and the perceived benefits of participation in creative and expressive arts programming.
While there is an increasing body of literature which has outlined a philosophy of problem-solving courts, there is a lack of studies which detail how the courts influence participants, as many problem-solving court and diversion studies are based on outcome variables that measure desistance of criminal behavior. Less is known about participants’ perspectives of how diversion programs foster an environment where individuals may adopt prosocial behavior.
This study illustrates how the YADC employed local community support, used community service, and integrated the creative and expressive arts as an innovative strategy to address the local issue of young adults failing to meet the requirements of probation and ultimately losing their diversion. Multiple perceived benefits resulted from the integration of creative and expressive arts in the YADC. The creative and expressive arts were used as a modality for young adults to rescript their stories, develop their voice, and identify a sense of purpose. Participants felt cared for and supported by staff in the YADC. The use of creative and expressive arts allowed participants to explore their identities, build self-confidence, and learn to regulate their emotions. Further, community service provided participants an opportunity to make positive contributions to the local community, prompting them to reflect on their own lives and integrate societal expectations into future choices.
This study tells the story of an innovative intervention in the criminal justice system, and the young adults share their own stories as they came into contact and were involved in this system. The findings presented in this study confirm and extend previous research through the systematic study of how the YADC integrated and delivered creative and expressive arts programming, and how young adult participants experienced this intervention. Unlike previous studies, this study focused directly on presenting young adult perspectives and contributes to our understanding of how they perceive benefits of program participation. This research suggests the potential of alternative approaches in the criminal justice system that intervene in the lives of young adults and that help them rewrite their own life stories.