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Creativity in prison under lockdown
Guide for prison staff on enabling creativity in criminal justice settings.

Creativity in a restricted regime

On Monday (19 April 2021), the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance published a new guide for prison staff, Creativity in a restricted regimeAccess to creative activity is essential for the wellbeing of people in prison, but understanding how to make it possible in the face of Covid-19 restrictions has been a challenge. This guide gives recommendations on how those working in prisons can achieve this, in collaboration with education providers, artists and arts organisations – as restrictions ease and prison regimes begin to change.

An unprecedented number of people in prison have now been living under a restricted regime for a prolonged period of time. The situation continues to evolve but is likely to continue for months to come, and as it does, the risk of long-term damage to prisoners’ mental health increases. Access to arts and creative activity is essential for prisoner health and wellbeing, and therefore these activities have a crucial role to play in a restricted regime.

For the benefit of the whole prison community, the guide encourages prisons, education providers, artists and art organisations to work together, to provide every prisoner with access to creativity during regime restrictions in place during the pandemic and into the challenging recovery stages ahead. This document gives recommendations on how those working in prisons can achieve this.

The document is written specifically for the COVID lockdown situation and is designed to fit with HMPPS National Framework for coping with the pandemic. The guide sets out to encourage meaningful, safe practice for in-cell arts and creative activity during lockdown.

Recommendations for minimum creative provision under lockdown stages are outlined in the graphic below.


The guide also provides advice on the different ways that prisons can fund creative activity. Some activity can be funded through traditional sources including education, health and resettlement work. Activity may also be funded through the Dynamic Purchasing System, whether through adapting existing contracts or obtaining new ones. Work may also be provided by arts organisations and charities who are funded elsewhere. To ensure creative activity is of a high standard and appropriate for criminal justice settings, remunerating providers appropriately is essential.

The document also contains a number of helpful case studies with examples of how creative activities have already been adapted in some prisons to meet COVID restrictions. 

Top tips

A final key part to the document is its “top tips” for effective creative delivery which are reproduced below:

Arts and creative activity can provide a sense of purpose, motivation and a goal to work towards for people in prison facing ongoing in-cell isolation. We recommend activities that support participants to feel they are a part of something beyond their cell. This might include a group of prisoners, contributing individual sections to a collective work, to be displayed/ performed collectively when the lockdown eases. Suggested approaches include:


  • Have a lead member of staff for creative delivery
  • Acknowledge the pressure prison staff are currently under and work with existing contacts to deliver meaningful activities with staff input into design, to assist partners to understand what’s possible
  • Keep things fresh and replenish resources on time to support them to stay motivated and engaged (see examples from the Prisoner Learning Alliance and Koestler Arts)
  • Reach out to experts
  • Seek new creative partnerships in your local area
  • In a national lockdown or where the local area is under tightened restrictions, work with existing contacts to identify how activities can be adapted and continue under the enhanced restrictions in the community
  • Seek out creative partnerships and projects which foster and maintain family connections for people in prison
  • Adapt existing provision through Dynamic Purchasing System contracts, philanthropic work or education and health projects
  • Create materials communicating safety measures in place for partners/potential participants to let them make an informed decision about attending
  • Seek an artist in residence to capture this experience and provide connectivity
  • Work with partners such as National Prison Radio, Local Prison Radio, Internal TV Loop, video calls and in-cell technology
  • Provide mechanisms for feedback and a creative community.

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