In 1991 the Northern Ireland Office appointed a Drama Specialist to work in the Prison Service. Over the next few years the Northern Ireland Prison Service allowed a number of artistic ventures led by artists brought into prison to work with prisoners producing work and by bringing in artists to perform or show their work inside.
The Prison Arts Foundation (PAF) was founded as a charitable trust in November 1996 after extensive discussions between the main stakeholders: the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Community Relations Council and the Community Arts Forum. Dr James Hawthorne was the Chairperson during this time and he had a passion for the arts. PAF’s aim was to create, both individually and in partnership, access to the arts for all prisoners, ex-prisoners, young offenders and ex-young offenders in Northern Ireland.
In May 1997, PAF employed a Development Officer the late Mike Moloney. Through the delivery of workshops led by professional Artist Practitioners which inspire, enthuse and educate PAF has been at the forefront of change within the prison environment in Northern Ireland. The late Mike Moloney, Executive Director (1996-2013) said,
Change is at the heart of rehabilitation and participation in the arts is a powerful learning tool and catalyst for the personal and social transformation of an individual. Alongside the artistic work produced, participation in the arts engages offenders in constructive activity which assists personal development through the promotion of positive relationships, the tolerance and acceptance of others, collaborative group work and self-reflection. It supports a reduction in re-offending through the development of new skills, artistic and transferrable, which assist employment and community integration.
The recent report ‘Unlocking Value – the economic value of the arts in criminal justice’ for the Arts Alliance, which reports to the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales, outlined the economic benefits associated to the use of the arts in criminal justice settings. Participant and stakeholder testimonials recognise the value of PAF artistic interventions, the skills learned and the change produced. With years of experience in this area, PAF want to advocate the continued use of the arts within the criminal justice system and, in these uncertain times, work to capture data which can measure the benefit of PAF’s work through economic analysis and other means.
Art is a medium for change, prison is just a venue.