Tim Robbins Prison Drama Class screenshot California Arts Council

Actor Tim Robbins has dramatically cut repeat offender rates for prisoners who take his acting class behind bars.

Six out of every 10 inmates in California will commit another crime and return to prison within three years of their release. Robbins’ program has cut that rate in half.

The reason is because the drama workshops give prisoners a way to express their emotions.

It was created by The Actors’ Gang — a theater production and support group Robbins founded in 1981. In addition to promoting progressive theater around the world, its mission statement includes a promise “to bring the freedom of self-expression to the incarcerated.”

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For six years now, the star of the prison drama “Shawshank Redemption” has been taking The Actors’ Gang into six real-life California prisons to conduct drama classes as a form of emotional rehabilitation.

“It’s very difficult in prison to show fear, to show sadness, happiness,” said Robbins, who in 1981 stepped up as the group’s founding artist director. “It’s pretty much an environment of anger.”


Robbins uses his class to break down that anger and let inmates “dig into” their other emotions, forcing prisoners to bring out repressed feelings in acting exercises.

He calls it a “public safety issue” when talking about the importance of rehabilitating inmates emotionally so they are less likely to return to old habits when they finish serving their time.

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Not only has it been credited with cutting the recidivism rate in half among inmates who’ve participated, a study in December shows The Actors’ Gang has reduced fights in prisons by 89% among inmates in the program.

Such success has convinced state officials to offer funding for the group’s transformative work on the inside.

(WATCH the video below from the California Arts Council)

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