“The Northern Ireland Prison Service is reforming, reforming its working practices and reforming the manner in which it engages with those entrusted to our custody, to ensure that they are provided with the best opportunity to reintegrate into the community when released. The Prison Arts Foundation’s strategic plan acknowledges this reform process but also acknowledges the role that various art forms has in those individuals own journey of reform. Engaging in those art forms not only helps with improving individuals’ skills in that area but can begin a process where an individual sees their potential and the opportunities available to them whilst in custody. These are important developments for individuals, and I fully appreciate the work that the Prison Arts Foundation undertake in that process.”
Sue McAllister, former Director General, Northern Ireland Prison Service
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 approved a number of artistic projects, led by professional artists, and delivered in the prison environment. These artists worked with people with convictions, producing artistic works and professional artists were further supported to perform and showcase their work in the prisons.
The potential was clear and after extensive discussion 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, a specialised charitable organisation to support arts within the prison system was founded in November 1996.
Their aim for Prison Arts Foundation (PAF) was to aid the rehabilitation of prisoners by helping them to express themselves and to encourage personal and social change, using a range of artforms. Through the delivery of workshops led by professional artist practitioners PAF has been at the forefront of change within the prison environment in Northern Ireland.