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NCJAA Conference 2016

NCJAA Conference 2016: arts, culture and innovation in criminal justice settings

On 5th October, we held our 2016 conference at HMP Askham Grange, York. The event saw the launch of ‘Arts, culture and innovation in criminal justice settings: a guide for commissioners’; a new unique guide to commissioning arts projects in criminal justice settings in response to the Coates Review into prison education and the Culture White Paper. The conference and publication both highlighted the unique role of the arts in supporting rehabilitation, including promoting safe and secure prisons and improving outcomes for offenders across the prison estate and in the community.


Image courtesy of Paul Gent

First, the welcome: a prison creating space in its beautiful rooms and gardens for arts organisations to perform, tell stories, talk, share, question and debate. In the background, the women of Askham Grange moving about their day.

The conference began with a short welcome from HMP Askham Grange staff who recognise the important role of arts and culture in rehabilitation and resettlement, followed by the launch of the commissioning guide, led by Alison Frater, Chair of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance. The guide sets out evidence for investing in arts in criminal justice. It presents models of commissioning through health, education and offender management programmes. It includes information on cost and cost effectiveness. It is the ‘why’ but also the ‘how to’ for delivering arts projects in criminal justice settings.

Performance of Through the Gap
Delegates were then able to enjoy a performance of Through the Gap, which explores the incongruity of incarcerating women for real but tragic crimes. Over the past year, this all female company has worked in association with York St John University’s Prison Partnership Project as part of their undergraduate degrees. This enabled them to work with women residents at HMP Askham Grange to gather stories to inform the performance. The performance was stunning, providing a powerful insight into the lives of women within the Criminal Justice System. Feathers were used to express frailty, but not weakness. The message was powerful; measured, but not docile.


Image courtesy of York St John University

Workshop Sessions (Morning)
In the morning, workshops explored art forms that work to support people’s realisation, rehabilitation, and recovery in prisons, youth offending institutions, and in community and probation settings. Below, you’ll find some information on each of the workshops, as well as many of the slides that accompanied the sessions.

  • Fostering the right culture for creativity to thrive in a prison environment and beyond: working in partnership to improve creative and participant outcomes – HMP Askham Grange and New Hall, York St John University, Clean Break, and the Donmar Warehouse
  • Improving wellbeing for those most at risk of self-harm and suicide in a prison setting – Geese Theatre Company and the University of Birmingham. This session highlighted Geese’s innovative partnership with a number of Safer Custody Teams.
  • Singing the blues: engaging women with challenging behaviours – Phoene Cave, music therapy at HMP and YOI Bronzefield. This session explored how music therapy (including song writing and improvisation) was used as an initial intervention to engage the hardest to reach women across the prison estate. It also covered how the work had an impact on their self-esteem, self-perception and ability to build positive working relationships.
  • Arts as early intervention: working with young people at risk of offending – Intermission Outreach. In this session, participants learned about how Intermission Outreach delivers hard-hitting topics such as gang culture, post-code rivalry, gun and knife crime, as well as many more subjects close to young people living in London. Through Shakespeare, Intermission address issues such as communication, confidence, diversity and forgiveness. 

Image courtesy of Paul Gent

Image courtesy of Paul Gent

Over lunch, delegates had the opportunity to view two films:

The Bigger Picture: interviews with women in HMP Peterborough by Kay Goodridge, Artist in Residence at HMP Peterborough in collaboration with Stretch Charity.

  • The sound-piece of edited interviews with women from HMP Peterborough is available here.
  • The film is available here.
  • You can contact Kay Goodridge with any feedback via her website.

Animation and narrative: how working with personal narrative using animation can give service users in secure settings a sense of agency in their own stories by Tony Gammidge, with films from Memorial Hospital and HMP Swaleside.

Image courtesy of Paul Gent

Panel discussion
After lunch, a panel discussion focused on commissioning arts projects and creating partnerships to meet the needs of offenders. The panel were asked: Following on from the Culture White Paper and the Dame Sally Coates Review, how can reform involve arts and culture to build a rehabilitative culture in the current policy landscape? The panel included:

  • Simon Marshall – Deputy Director – Head of Co-Commissioning and Programme Director, Education and Employment Reform
  • Mags Patten – National Director of Communication, Arts Council England
  • Director, Education and Employment Reform Commissioning Group, NOMS
  • Graham Beck – Governor, HMP Kirkham
  • Alison Frater – Chair, National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance

This was a fascinating discussion, with Simon Marshall praising our new commissioning guide as an insightful and useful document for the National Offender Management Service. He also reflected on the arts’ ability to overcome the ‘deficit’ model, that characterises a great deal of work in prisons – and its ability to change public perception. People are so often described in terms of deficits: drug addiction, mental illness, physical ill health, unemployment, lack of education. By contrast, arts organisations work with an individual’s intrinsic talents, overcoming past lack of opportunity, and building motivation, engagement and change. He noted that the arts were hard work, providing opportunities for team building, learning skills, playing a part, turning up, delivering, and staying for the duration of the course.

Mags Patten celebrated the range of creative opportunities and outputs emerging for and by people in the Criminal Justice System. She talked about how ACE can work harder to make resources go further. There is a need to build inclusion in the arts and to value diversity, both on the inside and out. She talked over pathways across the Criminal Justice System, working with people at risk in the community and youth justice groups, in prisons and in resettlement through partnerships with local authorities and mainstream arts organisations. There is a great deal of work underway, already funded, but there is also a need to write a more explicit model increasing the offer, improving access to the arts and realising the benefits for individuals, families and communities.

Graham Beck talked about his journey from ‘sceptic’ to ‘convert’ and the unexpected value of the arts and its ability to build hope and to create an enabling environment. The result was an extraordinary Koestler Trust Award Winning work of art and a palpable shift in culture.

Alison Frater fielded questions from the audience about how NOMS and ACE can work more strategically to improve the arts and criminal justice offer.

Image courtesy of Paul Gent

Image courtesy of Paul Gent

Workshop Sessions (Afternoon)
The afternoon workshop sessions looked at implementation, evidence and improving outcomes across criminal justice. Below you’ll find information on each of the workshops, as well as the slides for many of them.

  • Improving outcomes and evidence in arts and the Criminal Justice System: building the evidence base and demonstrating success – Sarah French, Justice Data Lab at the Ministry of Justice, and Dr Caroline Lanskey from the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge introduced different approaches to collecting evidence in arts and criminal justice settings.
  • Digital arts in criminal justice settings: exploring the perceived barriers and outcomes for offenders – participants were able to learn more about the digital work Stretch Charity do at HMP Peterborough, equipping prisoners with skills in new media to create digital stories about their personal experiences of the Criminal Justice System.
  • Makeright: using design thinking in prison industry textile workshops to build empathy and design skills – delegates found out about the award winning Design Against Crime Research Centre’s ‘Makeright’ project. Through the project, volunteers are encouraged to mentor inmates who are learning design skills at HMP Thameside as part of their work with prison industries.
  • Demonstrating success within youth justice: using arts as an effective tool to improve safety, security and wellbeing – participants explored the innovative practice between arts, cultural organisations and youth justice settings, in which young people are provided with an opportunity to develop their creativity and re-engage. This workshop highlighted the dynamic collaboration between John Hansard Gallery, Southampton Youth Offending Service, Artswork, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

After the workshops the delegates came together for a closing session. Alison Frater thanked the host, organisers and contributors. She summarised that the conference symbolised a step change in arts and criminal justice, bringing together key stakeholders from ACE and NOMS. She concluded that we have made the case for arts in criminal justice settings and now we must build on that evidence and drive a national strategic approach to improve and grow what we do to continue changing the lives of offenders through creativity and innovation.

We were lucky enough to have artist and illustrator Paul Gent there to capture the conference on paper. You can find Paul’s drawings from the day in the gallery below.