Launching ‘Building Foundations for Change through the Arts’

An inquiry into the impact of participation in Prison Arts Foundation’s programmes by Dr Shelley Tracey.  The report explores the impact and benefits of our programmes, through the lenses of 14 particpants.  These include 6 individuals who have continued with their arts practice since release, and current members of our creative writing group in HMP Magilligan.
The Prison Arts Foundation has been successfully transforming lives and patterns of behaviour in and beyond the prison environment for more than 20 years. Their teams of experienced professional artists, working with offenders and ex-offenders, offer a life-line to programme participants. Through their participation in the arts, individuals have developed creative and communications skills, self-esteem and renewed sense of purpose, all of which are key to personal and social development, to unlocking potential and to reshaping futures.  These constructive, creative, interventions benefit society as a whole.
Carlo Gebler, a Writer-in-Residence with the Prison Arts Foundation with 25 years’ experience working in Northern Ireland’s prisons, has observed that
“When a person comes into a prison they invariably meet the one person they didn’t expect to meet; themselves … [and this] … has the effect of turning the psyche in on itself”.
With the appropriate support structures in place, this moment of profound introspection, coupled with a prisoner’s need to do something, if only to pass the time, can form a turning point in a prisoner’s life.  As the case studies in the current report demonstrate, the arts are particularly good at harnessing this potential.  The arts provide the tools, the opportunity, the motivation and the encouragement for prisoners to explore and to express a new, positive sense of personal identity.  Participation in the arts improves communications and interpersonal skills and, for many, becomes a route back into education.
Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive, Arts Council of Northern Ireland welcomes Dr Tracey’s report.
“The evidence contained within, drawn from prisoners’ first-hand accounts, provides a valuable addition to the available research material and compelling support for the efficacy of the programmes delivered by the Prison Arts Foundation.  The case studies shed new light on the experience of individuals brought into contact with the arts whilst in custody. They show in tangible terms how the arts have a civilizing and humanizing influence on the prison environment and how prisoners’ participation in arts activities contributes to a fundamental change in attitude to offending behaviour, to improved coping skills and to a higher level of social responsibility; even bringing benefits to individual health and wellbeing. This research brings into sharper focus the significant impact of the arts on such factors, which are acknowledged as key contributors to successful rehabilitation.”
Louise Cooper, Acting Director of Rehabilitation, Northern Ireland Prison Service, fully appreciates the work completed by PAF.
“The Prison Arts Foundation provides an important therapeutic service in the custodial setting.  The work conducted by a range of talented artists not only gives disengaged participants the opportunity to acquire new creative skills, but has been shown to improve their self-confidence.  This can be the first step towards positive engagement with other interventions available to people in custody aimed at supporting their resettlement and rehabilitation.  Research tells us that it is important for people to take responsibility for their behaviour and develop skills which ultimately support their successfully rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community.”
The Prison Arts Foundation and Dr Shelley Tracey would like to express our gratitude to all the parties who have provided ongoing support for our programmes both in the community and prison setting.  Thank you to all the individuals who attended for interview, bringing their enthusiasm, experiences and expertise.  The artists, writers and musicians in residence who have enthused, supported the participants in our arts programmes. The institutions which host PAF’s arts programmes: Hydebank Wood College, HMP Maghaberry and HMP Magilligan and those members of staff who support participation in the arts programmes.  Finally, we would like to thank the Arts Council of Northern Ireland who provided the funding for this research project.
Download Summary Report