NY corrections dept. ends sale of inmate art

By Rik Stevens, The Associated Press
Saturday March 30, 2002

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Department of Correctional Services has discontinued its annual inmate art show and banned the sale of art produced in prisons amid an uproar over a serial killer who profited from his works. 

Corrections spokesman James Flateau confirmed Friday that the “Corrections on Canvas” show, held for 35 years in the Legislative Office Building in Albany, has been eliminated. 

At the same time, Corrections Commissioner Glenn Goord ordered, effective immediately, that the state’s 67,000-plus inmates are not allowed to profit from their art or handicraft, though they can still produce it. 

Inmates, who buy their own art supplies, had been allowed to keep half the proceeds from their sales in the nine-day show, with the other half going to the state Crime Victims Board. 

Last year, $5,395 went to the Crime Victims Board, bringing the total over the past 16 years to more than $45,000, Flateau said. 

“It was designed to allow inmates to show that during incarceration, they were finding positive ways to use their time in a manner that was felt contributed to rehabilitation,” Flateau said. “In more recent years, the show has been perceived by some as the state providing a forum for inmates to profit from their crimes.” 

Last year, a portrait of the late Princess Diana was among 10 sketches and paintings by convicted serial killer Arthur Shawcross selling for up to $540 each. 

Relatives of Shawcross’ victims were outraged. Shawcross, 56, is serving a 250-year sentence for killing 11 Rochester-area women a decade ago. 

Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, called the ban a “blow to the rehabilitative process, at least for those inmates who produce attractive art.” 

Gangi said most inmate artists are not predatory or dangerous, and selling their art helped rehabilitating inmates “increase their sense of themselves.” 

After the uproar over Shawcross, Gov. George Pataki directed Goord to review the rules to disallow participation by notorious violent criminals.  

Goord took the directive one step further and barred it for all inmates.