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Anne Peaker Lecture 2015

Anne Peaker Lecture 2015

Arts and criminal justice in an international context

Below are Chair of the NCJAA Alison Frater’s reflections on the Anne Peaker lecture held in 2015 at the Southbank Centre. The event focused on the UK arts and criminal justice sector in an international context, with speeches from Selina Busby, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and Sara Lee, Artistic Director of the Irene Taylor Trust. The speeches were followed by a panel discussion featuring artists, practitioners and academics.

“To succeed, to strengthen the impact of the arts in the Criminal Justice System, we need to take the conversation outside ourselves. We start with the opportunity of the Anne Peaker Lecture, which looked at where we sit in an international context. How do countries lift arts in the Criminal Justice System into the mainstream? Which nations have public support? Which nations invest public funds? How are governments addressing discrimination, disadvantage and environmental predictors of crime? Are they taking action to override stigma, the shame of incarceration? Are they promoting the arts as a catalyst for changing lives?

What does it mean to be praised by the Secretary of State for Justice as ‘an element of the criminal justice system that is leading the way…arts interventions and creative projects that offer those within our Criminal Justice System opportunities for positive change’ when funding is transitory and uneven and when support is challenging at best, grudging at worst?

We are used to this, it seems. We see the transforming power of the arts, the potential to raise the game at industrial scale. Yet we have to hold tight within shrinking budgets. We go with it. We press on. We create. We deliver remarkable high quality work. And we are acknowledged as world leaders in this area.

Through visiting countries in many parts of the world – Australia, Brazil, Chile, Japan, the USA, Norway – speakers Dr Selina Busby from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and musician Sara Lee, artistic director of the Irene Taylor Trust, held up a mirror for arts organisations in the UK.

They reflected amazing commitment among arts organisations everywhere in the world; a coevolution for positive change. They noted a global climate of opprobrium in most (though not all) countries yet unequivocal agreement everywhere about the intrinsic and instrumental value of the arts. They spoke of an identity crisis in criminal justice, a global confusion about whether the purpose is rehabilitation or punishment.

If prisons are enabled to offer rehabilitation, they rehabilitate. If they’re about punishment they don’t – and they can’t do both said Richard Wingfield, a barrister from the British Institute of Human Rights and one of the panel members. Quoting from a renewed UN Convention he noted that worldwide agreed principles for conditions in prisons now firmly include the rights of people in prison to access social justice. This is setting the pace for a worldwide movement to end the damage incarceration, unless absolutely necessary, does to individuals and families – a growing recognition that continuing rising rates of imprisonment do not solve criminality, they just contribute to reoffending.

Sara, during her Winston Churchill Fellowship, contrasted Norway’s permissive, well-resourced arts in criminal justice culture with the aspiration of the system in the USA. In America, they recognise that they are failing. They see the value of arts and arts in education, yet they can’t quite get it done. “Where it has worked,” she said, “the arts have broken the school to prison pipeline. Young people are inspired to change. Given a way in to education – the new cool – they grab it with both hands and they deliver.”

The incredulity of Norwegians to the British system threw the brightest light. They had questions– you mean you work with large class sizes? How do you address individual needs?  You mean you don’t start rehabilitation as soon as people arrive in prison? How do you manage to fit in education and skills training before they leave?  You mean you bang people up for 23 hours without anything to do? Why do you do that?  You get no (or little) core funding from the state? Don’t they know it works? We know it works.

Melissa Eveleigh from Access to Justice, Arts for Action, Effie Makepeace from Nanzikambe Arts and Cardboard Citizens and Sylvan Baker from People’s Palace Projects joined Selena, Sara and Richard for the panel discussion. They talked about arts in war torn countries and in countries where prison overcrowding is a massive issue. Nanzikambe found, even in these harsh and terrifying places, the integral value of the creative process for individuals’ discovery and recovery. In these countries, the arts deliver health and hope for people at risk of or with HIV. They provide performance for survival, creativity to show how the system works, what a court of law looks like, how to behave, how not to behave, how to present your case.

There were lessons for the UK; a working matrix from Chile aligning the language and culture of arts and criminal justice to facilitate communication and translation, setting a joint agenda for arts practitioners and prison officers, and the delivery of integrated programmes by the same teachers and practitioners within the walls and through the gate in Norway. There were lessons of what not to do; countries that require prisoners to serve two years with exemplary behaviour before they are able to participate in education or arts programmes, and countries that destroy any tangible product from arts or crafts, denying achievement.

The panel were asked how we might shape the future. How can we position ourselves to address changes in the Criminal Justice System that we know are coming? What do we need to do to increase access to the arts? Sylvan said we need to stop wasting time in systems and structures, instead enabling the human right to learn. Melissa and Effie want to build relationships, spread the learning. Selina said we need mainstreaming. We should be touring the work, showcasing it through festivals, drawing in the governors, the policy makers and the general public. “Once they see the transformation it can’t be unseen. They become advocates.”  Sara said we need a leader – a champion.

She is right. We need strong leadership. Yet for me the room was full of champions, especially in the words of women from HMP Peterborough, through Gamelan, and in the finale performance by Music in Prisons Ambassador and Mentor Paradox – an MC from South London.

The lecture was a great tribute to Anne Peaker and all of those with the vision to celebrate and to promote arts in criminal justice. We now have an agenda for change: start arts and education as soon as people enter the Criminal Justice System, enable those who have failed or been failed to find their way by exploiting the capacity for the arts to reach individual needs, build arts into all programmes including education, work, restorative justice, and health, and provide support, facilities, and resources. We must ensure continuity inside and out by building bridges for learners and through professional development for practitioners. We can share skills, celebrate achievement, tour the work, and broaden support: recover citizenship, rehabilitate lives.”

We also Storified the Twitter activity that took place during the event, which you can see by clicking here.

Image courtesy of Prisoners’ Education Trust (c) Rebecca Radmore