Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 209–228 | Cite as

Music therapy for improving mental health problems of offenders in correctional settings: systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Xi Jing Chen
  • Helen Leith
  • Leif Edvard Aarø
  • Terje Manger
  • Christian Gold



The aim of this review was to assess the effectiveness of music therapy on improving the mental health of offenders in correctional settings.


Multiple databases and journals were searched to identify randomized controlled trials and quasi-randomized controlled trials of music therapy for offenders in correctional settings.


Five studies (n = 409; predominantly male) were included in random-effects meta-analyses. Music therapy was effective for promoting offenders’ self-esteem (Hedges’ g = 0.55, p < 0.001) and social functioning (g = 0.35, p < 0.05). Effects on anxiety and depression depended on the number of sessions. For both outcomes, the studies with 20 or more sessions had larger effects than the study that had fewer than 20 sessions, and this difference was statistically significant (Q = 11.88, df = 1, p < 0.001, anxiety; Q = 9.16, df = 1, p = 0.002, depression). No significant effects were found on behavior management or between different music therapy approaches.


Music therapy may be helpful for offenders to improve mental health. Future studies should consider including offenders of both genders, using larger sample sizes, and examining long-term effects. Publication bias may be an issue for this review given the small number of studies and the small sample sizes.


Forensic psychiatry Prison Depression Anxiety Psychotherapy Randomized controlled trials 



We would like to acknowledge the help of the Cochrane Developmental, Psychosocial and Learning Problems Group (CDPLPG) with the methodological questions as well as with providing search results.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xi Jing Chen
    • 1
  • Helen Leith
    • 1
  • Leif Edvard Aarø
    • 2
  • Terje Manger
    • 3
  • Christian Gold
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Communication and PsychologyAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark
  2. 2.Division of Mental HealthNorwegian Institute of Public HealthOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of Psychosocial ScienceUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  4. 4.GAMUT—The Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research CentreUni Research HealthBergenNorway

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