It's Cultural eXchanges week at University. I headed to a talk on the use of arts in prisons. It was hosted by Arts Alliance, for whom art doesn't just mean painting, but drama, dance, music and writing as forms of art too. They believe that if crime is a broken social connection, and art is a largely social thing, the arts can help to rebuild that connection.
Many people believe that prisons are too luxurious for convicted criminals, to which Arts Alliance respond it's "not just a holiday camp". They explained that in every prison, education is contracted from outside the prison to teach the offenders. They then explained that classes in the arts probably take up less than 5% of the courses on offer, which they think is not enough at all.
Why are they so persistent about the need for classes in the arts? Because it has been proven that not only does it save public money on other forms of rehabilitation, but it also reduces the likelihood of a prisoner re-offending. Arts Alliance helps by training people to continue giving support to prisoners after their release.
There are also groups such as the Shannon Trust which work within prisons, encouraging more-able prisoners to mentor the less-able prisoners, in reading and writing etc. This can help prisoners who need to reach level 1 in Mathematics and Literacy before taking Arts classes. This is largely so that they can pick out those who will most likely excel on the course. (This may seem unfair but it was also made clear that exceptions are made for prisoners without level 1 in mathematics and literacy if they show show a great deal of enthusiasm and passion for art.) Arts Alliance insist that these classes not only teach a form of art, but also how to express ideas, responding to feedback, and working in a team, all vital skills.
My vote? The arts should be taught in prisons, because surely, if an offender has an interest in one of the arts, it would be easier to rehabilitate them and reduce the risk of re-offending.
Sarah Kate Beckett