Inspiring creativity and encouraging personal and social change through the arts

The Prison Arts Foundation is as important as it is unique. Thanks to our pioneering work with people with convictions lives are being transformed and patterns of behaviour changed for good.

Our team of experienced professional artists working across the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland are offering people with convictions a life-line, helping to improve their creative and communications skills, which is key to personal and social development, building self-confidence and unlocking people’s potential.

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Prison &
Secure Settings

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 initiatives such as our Artist in Residence programme to prepare people with convictions for a life after release.

The arts are a powerful tool for engagement and creativity can play a significant role in working towards the goal of rehabilitation. At its heart, art is an act of community. Our artists facilitate prosocial, creative workshops covering everything from art appreciation to activities in music, ceramics/pottery, visual arts, woodcraft and creative writing.

Our workshops provide opportunities for disengaged learners and those who are unlikely to achieve academic qualifications to engage in learning activities in a positive way and achieve some success before hopefully progressing to more challenging areas of study.

Through engagement in these workshops, people with convictions are offered an opportunity to reconnect with their own unique creativity and explore their potential for expression and the making of meaning.

Who we work with

Since 1996 our core yearlong prison programme has been funded by the Department for Justice through the Northern Ireland Prison Service and supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. We currently deliver workshops within the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland including:

Maghaberry Prison

Maghaberry Prison

a modern high security prison housing adult male long term sentenced and remand prisoners, in both separated and integrated conditions.

Magilligan Prison

Magilligan Prison

a medium to low security prison which holds male prisoners with six years or less to serve and who meet the relevant security classification.

Hydebank Wood College and Women's Prison

Hydebank Wood College and Women's Prison

accommodates young people between the ages of 18 and 21 and female remand and sentenced prisoners in Ash House, a house block within the complex.

Since 2019 PAF has also delivered a yearlong secure setting programme thanks to funding from ARN Foundation via Community Foundation NI. We currently deliver workshops within the secure system in Northern Ireland:

  • Regional Forensic Unit (Shannon Clinic) – a medium secure unit providing in-patient services for prisoners with mental illness who require intensive psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation in a structured, secure and therapeutic environment.
Prison & secure settings

What we do

Engaging in the creative arts within a prison or secure environment gives people with convictions

  • the opportunity to develop new skills,
  • be reflective, with the ability to express themselves outwardly

It offers

  • social interaction,
  • self-development,
  • interpersonal skills,
  • decision-making
  • and problem solving

Participating in the arts can play an important role in the rehabilitation of people with convictions. It is a way of discovering hidden talents, a means of developing that talent and encouraging them to engage with education, training and subsequently employment.

Successful rehabilitation consists of helping people to live useful and law-abiding lives in prison and on release. That requires them to take responsibility for their own lives and those of their families. Institutionalisation inevitably removes responsibility; to combat this, it is important that they should be engaged in as many activities as possible that require them to exercise some responsibility.

The production of an individual work of art falls into this category by lifting the spirit; it encourages a positive rather than a negative outlook of life, so essential for successful rehabilitation.

Exhibited works raises self-esteem highlighting the ability to do something positive that is valued by peers, families, the public and themselves. This in turn creates a ripple effect throughout the prison. Engaging in external exhibitions both locally and oversees through the Koestler Art awards and the Listowel Writers in Prison competition offers people with convictions opportunities to have their work acknowledged by a wider audience with a view to sales of work and exposure within the art environment.


Testimonial Image

“This piece was for my final major project in my Foundation Diploma in Art. The college staff have been unbelievable and helped me a lot, with not only my work but also in life itself. It was my Art teacher in HMP Magilligan who got me into the tech; she attended my interview because I messed up big time and could not get released to attend the interview. It was the final kick up the arse I needed to get me on the straight and narrow. Knowing I had let everyone down, who was helping me really hurt and gave me the final wakeup call I needed.

The piece is a self-portrait, of me playing death a game of chess. It’s based on my life; I believe if I hadn’t of went to prison when I did, I would be dead or doing life. That’s the way my life was going, the chess pieces are influenced be negative and positive influences throughout my life…I got help with my project from my mentor in the project run by the Prison Arts Foundation. The programme and my mentor have been brilliant and have helped me a lot. It would be great to continue to work with Prison Arts after the programme, which hopefully continues to run, due to the help and support they give to prisoners after their release from prison. The PAF staff have been really helpful and anything I’ve needed they have been more than happy to help; I would like to thank them for their support.”

PAF Mentee