Music Therapy in US Corrections

Music Therapy in US Corrections: Philosophy, Practice, and Protocols of Music Therapists Working with Incarcerated People in the US

Kayla Stubblefield, MT-BC


When you think of settings in which music therapists work, the first facility that comes to mind may be a school, a hospital, or a nursing home. Oftentimes, people are surprised when hearing that music therapy can benefit those in correctional facilities. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, having 1 out of 5 people incarcerated in the United States. Approximately 7 million people who are serving parole or probation are under oversight of the U.S. correctional system, with roughly 2.3 million people being held in various facilities such as juvenile detention prisons, jail, federal prisons, and immigration detention facilities. Poverty and race correlate to mass incarceration rates in the U.S., and Black Americans as well as other people of color are overrepresented (Sawyer & Wagner, 2020).


For almost 100 years, music therapy has existed in these facilities to support incarcerated people. Music therapists use music interventions to increase emotional expression, improve impulse control, increase empowerment, and improve coping skills through the use of lyric discussions, instrument play, instrument improvisation, live singing, music listening, and music recreation. The objective of this study was to explore the philosophy, practices, and protocols of board-certified music therapists working with incarcerated people. 


By using an online survey format, the researchers asked music therapists about the reason for or for not working in corrections. Furthermore, researchers asked the music therapists who work in corrections about their religious beliefs, political affiliation, music therapy practices in corrections, and protocols at their facilities about the provision of music therapy services. 


Results indicated that men and underrepresented racial minorities were more likely to work in corrections than music therapists who were less likely (approximately 90% white women). For political affiliation, the majority of respondents who work in corrections stated that they were Democrats and more than half of respondents stated that their religious/spiritual views did not influence their decision to work in corrections. 


Sawyer, W., & Wagner, P. (2020, March 24). Mass incarceration: The whole pie. Prison Policy Initiative.

Segall, L. E., & Yinger, O. S. (2022). Music Therapy in US Corrections: Philosophy, Practice, and Protocols of Music Therapists Working with Incarcerated People in the US. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 22(1).

Kayla Stubblefield, MT-BC