Bridget Edwards welcomes the Arts Alliance for artists working in the criminal justice system.

Gordon Brown, speaking on the BBC’s Politics Show, was asked what he meant by his ‘moral compass’. He said that it was his belief that, “we [Government] should help individuals realise their potential… They have talents to offer and we must help them make their contribution to society.” Arts professionals working in the specialised area of the criminal justice system are making this so. Yet typically, arts organisations working in this sector continually struggle for recognition of their impact and the funding that goes with it.

Take for instance the work of Safe Ground, who use drama to educate prisoners and young people at risk in the community. Their flagship projects, ‘Family Man’, which deals with interpersonal relationships, and ‘Fathers Inside’, which deals with parenting, are staged in more than 20 prisons across England, showing such good results, with 88% of the men taking part gaining a nationally accredited award, 44% returning to education and 13% returning to work after the course. These courses have been rigorously evaluated by National Foundation for Education Research and De Montfort University and are highly praised. Projects like these, helping offenders to gain a better life attitude (by which all of society benefits), should be rewarded and better funded. Currently, most of their income comes from trusts and foundations. Some Arts Council-funded organisations working in the criminal justice sector have avoided cuts to their ACE funding and one or two have even had inflationary rises, which we welcome. But that is too few. For some their work will cease altogether

So what’s to do? Well a ray of hope is the long-awaited development of an Arts Alliance for artists working in the criminal justice sector. This is a proposal to establish a central body that will improve communication and broker relationships between artists and organisations working with the criminal justice sector, offenders and ex-offenders, prison and probation staff, and relevant government personnel. The Arts Alliance would be a representative body which will enable practitioners and service users to gain a representative voice to influence policy, a forum to exchange views, and a stand to promote and raise the profile of the arts in criminal justice sector. The central body of the Arts Alliance committee would meet frequently to discuss issues directly affecting the sector, and those to whom we can offer our expertise. The hope is that, as the voice of the artists is heard, highlighting issues and working to provide solutions, then from it will come greater opportunities for commissions, as the criminal justice sector becomes more aware of impact the arts can have. I’d like to think that, out of a gloomy background of funding cuts, there can eventually come greater independence for arts organisations, hard though that will be. For Arts Council and Government officials, my hope is that they will seize the opportunity that such an Alliance brings to acquire better intelligence on which to base their decisions for partnership working and funding.

An Arts Alliance is timely, needed and necessary, and I hope that those who become involved in it will be determined, more than ever, to work collaboratively and creatively. By doing so everyone benefits eventually – artists, offenders, prison staff, families and the community.

Bridget Edwards is Chief Executive of the Anne Peaker Centre for Arts in Criminal Justice.
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