Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Doing Time “Gangham Style”

Many people are familiar with the dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and (DRC) thanks to their rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” that went viral on Youtube.[1]  Well these dancing inmates are at it again, this time with a performance of Psy’s “Gangham Style”, the music video that now holds the Guinness World Record for most likes on Youtube.  Cebu’s rendition of this music video has been uploaded for a little more than a week and already has over three million views.[2]  While these videos are entertaining they also bring another question to mind.  Is this choreographed exercise program at CPDRC a good form of rehabilitation?

CPDRC is a maximum-security prison located in the Philippines.  The inmates there are charged with murder, rape, drug-trafficking and other serious offenses, yet they practice a growing repertoire of dance routines up to four hours every day.[3]  This program, started by Byron Garcia the security consultant for the prison, originally began as prisoners’ marching in uniform to the beat of a drum, and evolved into dancing to pop music.  Garcia’s attempts to draw attention to the benefits of his new program had been ignored by other prisons in the area so he began posting Youtube videos of these dances.  His plan worked thanks to the popularity of the “Thriller” video;  by the end of 2007, eight other prisons in the Philippines had adopted some of Garcia’s new methods, including dance.[4]

So what exactly are the benefits of this program used in the CPDRC?  Garcia states that weekly outbreaks of violence have subsided, inmates’ health have improved, and recidivism rates (repetition of criminal activity) are down.  One inmate in the prison stated “I like dancing.  It is a way we get to show the world that even if we ended up in prison, we are not totally damaged people.”  Other similar programs in the United States have seen similar results.  The Rehabilitation through the Arts program currently operates programs in five men and women’s New York State correctional facilities.[5]  These programs include theatre, dance, creative writing, voice and visual art.  Studies done on participants in these programs have shown that men involved in these programs have completed educational programs beyond the GED than the comparison group.  They also report a higher level of positive coping and have had fewer infractions and spent fewer days locked in their cells as a disciplinary measure.  This program also builds communication, conflict management skills, self-confidence, trust and literacy skills. 

There have been some speculations that this program may not be all it seems.  Some people have stated that the public performances put on by the inmates are nothing more than a profit making measure and that because of this the inmates are being forced to dance.  I can understand how something like this, with paying admission to watch the inmates dance could lead to corruption or the desire to use the shows just to make money.  However, if it is controlled I do not see how it is a problem to have an extra income for the prison.  Even if this is not done, the idea itself of using dancing is still a good one. 

What are your thoughts on using dance as a means of rehabilitation in prison?  Personally I cannot see something like this as a bad thing.  It gives prisoners a way to not only have fun and exercise but also gives them something to care about.  The inmates at the CPDRC put on live shows for spectators every month and everything I have read indicates that they really enjoy it.  The events have even inspired a twelve part web series called Prison Dancer that may become a Broadway musical.[6]  Personally, anything to me that gets people involved in dancing is a good one.  It gives individuals, even prisoners, a way to channel their energy into something good. 

Nicole Irwin
Blogger, Criminal Law Brief


  1. I wonder if this takes away from the punishment aspect of what prisons are also supposed to serve for especially for those that are incarcerated for more than just a minor offense but life imprisonment instead.

  2. This program seems like a good way to unify the prison population in pursuit of a common goal. I wonder how much success this type of program would have in prisons highly segregated along gang or racial lines.

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