Help Save the Shakespeare Prison Project!

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has banned The Shakespeare Prison Project (TSP) from all of its facilities, despite the program’s proven track record of success.  Please urge Gary Hamblin, Secretary of The Wisconsin Department of Corrections, to allow this worthwhile educational activity to resume.

“As a long time prosecutor in Kenosha County, I think any good citizen who helps inmates take a look at the world from other eyes is playing an important role…  What better way to do that than the theater?”

~ Michael D. Graveley, Assistant District Attorney, Kenosha County, Wisconsin

From 2004 to 2008, The Shakespeare Project involved over 600 inmates in the study and performance of plays like OTHELLO and THE TEMPEST.

The annual nine-month program, which has been celebrated in THE NEW YORK TIMES and on WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO, helps inmates develop essential life skills, including self-discipline, moral reasoning, empathy, and problem-solving.

The Shakespeare Project also has a strong positive effect on the cultural climate of the prison, involving inmates of diverse backgrounds, and volunteer facilitators, staff, and administrators in an exciting creative activity that transcends boundaries.

Finally, The Shakespeare Project helps prisoners re-connect to their families in positive ways. As the wife of one inmate declared at the conclusion of his performance, “It feels different to see him treated like a person up there.”

It was stunning – Shakespeare as Shakespeare was meant to be – real, raw, and electrifying. The actor who played the lead had a powerful on-stage presence and emoted real anguish. Iago was positively machiavellian. And Desdemona made me cry. It was by far the most memorable performance of  the play I have ever seen – truly transformative.

~ Jean Feraca, Wisconsin Public Radio

The Shakespeare Prison Project is directed by Dr. Jonathan Shailor, associate professor of communication a the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and a volunteer educator in prisons since 1995. He is a Wisconsin Teaching Scholar and a recipient of the Stella Gray Award for Teaching Excellence. He has been named a “Friend of Corrections” on mulitple occasions, and was chosen as the keynote speaker at the Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony at Racine Correctional Institution in 2007.  Shailor has published several evidence-based essays on the benefits of prison theatre programs, including The Shakespeare Project (see Works Cited, bottom of this page).

The Shakespeare Project was scheduled to resume at Racine Correctional Institution on September 4, 2012.

Then somebody shut it down.

Just days before The Shakespeare Project was scheduled to begin, the warden was directed by his supervisors at the State Department of Corrections to cancel the project, because it was not an approved “evidence-based practice.”  If this criterion of “evidence-based practice” was applied to all prison activities, then the prison’s softball games and poetry readings would also be cancelled.


The United States incarcerates more of its people than any other nation in the world, and also fails to provide adequate resources for inmate education, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

In 2011, 80% of the inmates at Racine Correctional Institution were not involved in education programs.  This is a shame, because the evidence in the U.S. over the past 40 years is overwhelming: education in prison is always positively correlated with lower rates of recidivism (see Correctional Association of New York, 2009; Harer, 1994; Steurer, 1996; Steuer, et al., 2010).  The Brewster Report shows a specific relationship between arts and humanities education and reduced recidivism (1983), and more recently, a 17-year-old prison Shakespeare program in Kentucky indicated the recidivism rate of their participants at 6%, as opposed to the 65% recidivism rate nationally, and the 34% recidivism rate for the Kentucky Department of Corrections (Shakespeare Behind Bars, 2010).  The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution (2004-2008) has also been proven as a positive force in rehabilitation, re-entry and reintegration (see Shailor: 20011a, 2011b, 2008a, 2008b).

“Ninety-five percent of the people who go into prison come back out. And how do you want them to come back out? Do you want them to be bitter and angry and hostile? Or do you want something in place that maintains their humanity and keeps the human side alive?”

~ Grady Hillman, Co-Founder, Southwest Correctional Arts Network, and Artist in Residence at over 50 correctional facilities in the United States and abroad

Please sign this petition urging Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Hamblin to bring back The Shakespeare Project!

Works Cited

Brewster, L. G. (1983).  An Evaluation of the Arts-in-Corrections Program of    the California Department of Corrections. Report prepared for the William James Association (Santa Cruz, CA) and the California Department of Corrections.  Accessed on 1/31/10 at

Shailor, J.  (2011a).  Prison theatre and the promise of reintegration.  In Performing  New Lives:  Prison Theatre.  London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 180-196.

Shailor, J. (2011b).  Humanizing education behind bars:  The theatre of          empowerment and the Shakespeare project.  In Stephen Hartnett (Ed.),Empowerment or incarceration?  Reclaiming hope and justice from the prison-industrial complex.  Champaign, IL:  University of Illinois Press.  pp. 229-251.

Shailor, J. (2008a).  When muddy flowers bloom:  The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution.  In PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America).  Volume 123, No. 3, 632-641.

Shailor, J. (2008b). A professor’s perspective: The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution. In Brune, K. (Ed.), Creating Behind the Razor Wire: Perspectives from Arts in Corrections in the United States.  Published by

Shakespeare Behind Bars (2010).  Internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars Incorporates as Not-for-Profit. Retrieved July 17, 2012 from

Steurer, S. (1996) “Correctional education: A worthwhile investment.” Linkages, 3,2. Washington, DC: National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities Center.

Steurer, S.J., Linton, J., Nally, J., & Lockwood, S. (August 2010). The top-nine reasons to increase correctional education programs. Corrections Today.

Steurer, S.J., Smith, L., & Tracy, L. (2001). Three state recidivism study. Study sponsored by the Correctional Education Association and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (Office of Correctional Education).

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