Art transforms lives

27 May 2014

PET has long seen the value of art for prisoners. And this year, as we celebrate the achievements of our thousands of learners throughout our anniversary we are proud to use the design of an artist we support for our 25th birthday logo. 

Last year we gave over 300 people grants for arts and hobby materials to create things in their own time and we also fund distance learning courses in subjects including art history, creative writing and garden design. Whether prisoners are studying for a formal qualification or just because they enjoy painting in their cell, PET believes any form of art can be beneficial and does help rehabilitate people.

Art can inspire people to consider other types of learning and can help prisoners have a more positive outlook on the future.  

We also know it works. We have evidence from the MoJ Justice Data lab’s analysis of PET’s work which found learning reduces reoffending by more than a quarter. A specific art-focused report found that PET’s provision of art materials for prisoners led to a reduction in reoffending of between 0.3 and 14 percentage points.

Other examples of evidence and good practice for the effectiveness of the arts are gathered through evaluations of different projects in the Arts Alliance Evidence library. PET is on the Arts Alliance steering group and are supporting its new large-scale research project to better understand the impact of creative activities for people in prison. We featured an Arts Alliance story in May’s Inside Time to ask prisoners what they thought about the purpose of the arts and whether it helps reduce reoffending.

PET has received many responses from readers which show that clearly they believe this to be the case but unfortunately some highlighted barriers they are experiencing. One man said he had been waiting 10 months to join an art class. He said: “Art needs to be wholly supportive if it is to reduce reoffending. Basic time and support is needed to help give these prisoners the chance to not reoffend.”

Art can help people develop soft skills such as patience, self discipline, confidence and creativity. It can also help people to cope with mental health conditions or recover from addictions. One respondent, a Koestler award-winner, says art has helped him stop self-harming.

He says: “Art relives me of a lot of stress and is a form of escapism. It is much better than any drug.”

Many respondents wrote about how valuable creative writing has been for them. One person who has studied the subject, now has ambitions to work in publishing and says: “Writing is a positive routine and distraction away from crime.”

These letters echo the experiences of many of PET’s alumni such as Marvin Blair, who put his life sentence behind him when he was released from prison by establishing himself as an artist after he found that writing and painting helped him cope with depression and improved relationships with his family during his sentence. In the last 10 years he has worked in some of London’s top theatres including the Royal Court and The Lyric, made short films and graduated from renowned art college Central St Martins. Marvin’s experience shows that art can and does transform prisoners’ lives.