Arts, culture & innovation in criminal justice settings

New guide from the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance provides invaluable advice for those wishing to commission arts with offenders.

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A guide for commissioners

A new (14 October 2016) guide from the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance provides those with responsibility for supporting the education, health, wellbeing and reintegration to society of individuals within the Criminal Justice System with clear information on the valuable role arts can play in supporting these objectives.

Written by Andy Parkinson from Consilium Research and Consultancy, the guide provides practical information and ideas for those wishing to commission artists and arts organisations and includes details of how to identify providers and case studies demonstrating how arts activities can be used to meet the needs of offenders.



Drawing on case studies and research evidence, the guide focuses on the following areas:

  • Contributing to better health and wellbeing
  • Supporting learning and employability
  • Improving outcomes for specific offender groups
  • Adding value and improving prison culture
  • Rehabilitation and resettlement
  • Supporting the prison inspectorate process.

It highlights the contribution of the arts across a range of settings, including prisons and the community and using different art forms such as music, theatre, visual arts, literature and digital arts.

The variety of art forms and arts activities present a wealth of opportunities to inspire, engage and support those within the Criminal Justice System to develop new skills, as well as discovering new ways of behaving and relating to others.

The guide provides practical information and ideas for those wishing to commission artists and arts organisations. It includes details of how to identify providers and case studies demonstrating how arts activities can be used to meet the needs of offenders.

It also highlights the value of working in partnership with arts organisations to co-design arts interventions and adopt a strategic approach to using arts to support rehabilitation.

The guide also signposts further research and evaluations on the impact of arts-based projects, programmes and interventions within the Criminal Justice System at


Evidence base

The guide cites  a 2013 review of evidence published by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) which demonstrates that arts projects are effective at improving in-prison behaviour, such as compliance with rules and engagement with the regime and individual psychological factors, such as depression and a sense of purpose.

Emerging evidence suggests that arts projects may be effective at improving educational outcomes and enhancing the effectiveness of offending behaviour programmes. The outcomes delivered by arts projects relate to criminogenic or protective factors identified widely in the academic and research literature, and hence are likely to contribute to the process of desistance from crime.

The guide summarises the impact of arts interventions in criminal justice settings:

  • Participation in arts activities enables individuals to begin to redefine themselves, an important factor in desistance from crime.
  • Arts projects facilitate high levels of engagement. Engagement in arts projects has also been shown to lead to greater participation in education and work-related activities.
  • Arts projects can have a positive impact on how people manage themselves during their sentence, particularly on their ability to cooperate with others – including other participants and staff. This correlates with increased self-control and improved problem-solving skills.
  • Engagement with arts projects facilitates increased compliance with criminal justice orders and regimes.
  • Arts projects are responsive to participants’ individual needs. Current policy documentation on commissioning services to meet offenders’ needs highlights the importance of responsiveness in meeting diverse needs.
  • Arts projects provide safe spaces for individuals to have positive experiences and begin to make individual choices.


Range of activities

The most engaging part of the guide is its showcase of a wide range of different arts interventions including: theatre companies, creative music, art therapy, book groups and much much more.

It was also heartening to read the introduction from Matt Hancock, Minister for Culture, to whom I shall leave the last word:

Whether it’s a prisoner taking part in a music workshop or theatre production, singing in a choir, or attending a visual arts class – the arts have the power to improve self-esteem, social skills, empathy, health and wellbeing, and personal development – all things that can lead to a more positive and aspirational outlook.

I’ve seen for myself how the arts can engage young people at risk, improve prisoners’ health and wellbeing, help to rehabilitate former offenders, contribute to a reduction in reoffending, and stimulate an interest in learning. They help find the spark, and the value, that lies in every human soul. Arts and culture should be for everyone and the  government wants to ensure that they are available to all, no matter where you live or where you come from.


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