Prisons in Northern Ireland don’t work in isolation they work within their local communities and with other services – with Probation, housing, health and drug services, local businesses and charities like the Prison Arts Foundation to provide innovative schemes and initiatives to prepare prisoners for a life after release.
We have two major areas of activity which are: our prison-based and our community-based programmes. These activities bring benefits to the offender – raising their self-awareness, helping them express and understand their feelings, and developing their skills and self-discipline. These improvements in turn bring benefits to their families and communities, and to the staff who work in prisons and other establishments.
Most importantly arts activity offers a diversion from re-offending. For the community at large, the overriding benefit of the Prison Arts Foundation’s activities is to help offenders move towards crime-free lives. The charity also benefits the general public by raising awareness and understanding of offenders through exhibition and showcasing of their artistic achievements.
This programme enables the full spectrum of prisoners to engage in the arts. Our professional artists teach, enthuse and give inspiration to those serving custodial sentences through creative writing, visual art, ceramics and pottery, woodwork and music.
PAF takes a holistic approach to provision of these services. The arts are a means to engage in group activity, develop artistically and open paths to potential accreditation. Creative engagement encourages participants to shape their own outcomes. Institutionalisation inevitably removes responsibility. To combat this, it is important that prisoners should be engaged in as many activities as possible that require them to exercise some degree of responsibility. The production of an individual work of art can lift the spirit; it encourages a positive rather than a negative outlook on life, so essential for successful rehabilitation.
This programme aims to work with some of Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable and marginalised groups of people to give them new skills, renewed self-confidence and support at a pivotal point in their lives. Our artists will work with people who have a history of offending, and families of serving prisoners initially to help them explore new, creative outlets through short residencies.
The programme seeks to give participants new creative and capacity skills and long lasting, enduring benefits such as greater self-confidence and strives to make participants feel more included and valued members of society, and their community’s cultural landscape. We take seriously the fact that too many people in Northern Ireland think the arts are not for them, and this project is designed to break down this preconception by being fully inclusive, and designed with their specific needs in mind.
Through this project we want to work with people who may feel marginalised due to their past, to build their skills and confidence and increase their opportunities for re-engaging with positive paths.
An innovative form of support which PAF hope will address the transition from custody into the community through an arts mentoring for people who have offended scheme. Building on the success of this mentoring programme, PAF wish to provide continued support to people who have been involved in the criminal justice system and who have an interest in the arts.
PAF Mentors will be experienced artists, writers, producers and craftspeople who are trained to provide support to someone who has been involved in the criminal justice system. We will have two different mentoring pathways offering unique and bespoke support to people who have been involved in the criminal justice system and who would like to continue with their arts based practice. All mentees will be matched with a mentor who will work with them on a one-to-one basis to identify the goals they would like to achieve in the arts and have regular mentoring sessions to realise these.