News and Information from the Arts in Criminal Justice Sector

Keshena Bowie

There has been a flurry of activity in recent weeks about prison, prison education, and the role of the arts in society so we thought it might be useful to try to summarise a little of what has been happening:


  • The prison reform agenda, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech, has created six new “reform prisons”. In essence the Governors of these prisons are being given greater autonomy, and therefore responsibility, to decide what happens within their establishments. This includes having greater control over budgets and the ability to decide on a local level how to best deliver services which aid the education and rehabilitative processes. We would anticipate that this agenda will continue over the coming months and years and expect to see other prison governors also being granted greater autonomy.


  • Alongside the prison reform agenda, last week also saw the launch of Dame Sally Coates’ review into prisoner education, Unlocking Potential. This is being seen as a long-overdue rethinking about the way in which education is provided within secure establishments. The foreword to this important review includes the sentence, “… should include greater provision of high quality arts provision…” and goes on to argue for a greater role for the arts within custodial settings.


  • Earlier this year the Arts and Humanities Research Council published Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture by Geoffrey Crossick & Patrycja Kaszynska. This high profile analysis includes many references to the role of the arts in criminal justice settings, in particular reference to developing the reflective individual: “The arts typically leave ambiguities and silences, allowing individuals to create their own responses and understanding, helped by the arts practitioners’ open, collaborative style. In a criminal justice world where there is little room for uncertainty, this can be very powerful.” Geese’s work is also referenced a number of times in this report.


  • DCMS’ The Culture White Paper, also contains reference to and case studies about the role of arts in CJS settings: “There are also many good examples of how cultural interventions can benefit prisoners, ex-offenders and people at risk of becoming involved in crime. Culture can help to improve self-esteem, social skills and wellbeing: all of which helps to reduce the risk of offending and re-offending and make our communities safer. We will work with Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and other partners to ensure that offenders and those at risk continue to benefit from cultural opportunities.” This statement was re-enforced by Ed Vaizey at a recent National Alliance for Arts in Criminal Justice event in which he spoke at length about the value that both he and Michael Gove place on access to the arts for those who are in prison. 


So a shifting landscape in which we deliver our work and we are cautiously optimistic that all of the above might mean that we are able to deliver more work in custodial settings. Obviously this is all dependent on decisions makers understanding and valuing the role that the arts can play in the desistance process and being willing to provide spaces within their establishments in which creativity can flourish.

We look forward to seeing how the conversation develops in the coming months.