Safe Ground - Using drama to educate prisoners and young people at risk in the community


The Impact of Arts in Criminal Justice

Safe Ground’s Fathers Inside and Family Man programmes have been completed by over 5000 students since 2003. I was delighted to be able to speak to one of our alumni, Richard, about how the arts and arts-based methodologies have helped him.

Richard shared that Safe Ground was his first proper experience of the arts, apart from taking part in plays as a child. He didn’t even think the programme was art at first, it was more about getting extra out of yourself, with the family visit being one of the incentives. “You’re built up through group activities” Richard said, “then you are pushed outside of your comfort zone, to make you realise that you can stand up and act.” He vocalised the good feeling that you get, forgetting about where you are in that moment. For Richard, the bonding with the group, and everyone encouraging each other, gave him confidence and made him understand.

“Then you are pushed outside of your comfort zone, to make you realise that you can stand up and act”

I then asked how his experience of the Family Man programme helped him to discover that he was passionate about drama. Richard said he had a vision, because looking back and thinking about his children made him realise the damage of his past. He made a point that your childhood does have an effect on your future. He shared his vision of plays around childhood, and the messages underlying them. Richard continued his interest in the arts by doing an A-Level course in media development, whereby he created a play called ‘The Visit’. This was a prison visiting scene, of a guy who hadn’t seen his child for three years. He added that this piece of art came from the heart. For Richard, the Safe Ground programme helped him to look into himself, it was powerful. He believes that it is important to embrace this and let your children in, so that they don’t follow the same path.

Richard said he wrote the play as he wanted to give something back to Safe Ground. He subsequently performed at some events including our annual symposium. Richard shared that he has been introduced to a social enterprise called ‘bthechange’. Through this he can take arts into schools and children’s homes, performing the play. He recognises that we need to break the criminal cycle, focusing on prevention and messages around this. Richard said that art is not used enough, even though it is a great tool in prisons. It gives you a chance to express yourself, allowing your confidence and self-esteem to grow.

I shared with Richard a recent evaluation of the NHS Initiative, Open Arts Essex, by Angila Ruskin University. It was found that arts courses lead to an improvement in wellbeing and social inclusion, with over 80% of participants reporting an improvement in their confidence. Richard said that the arts gave him good confidence, and the ability to believe in himself. However, he said that the label of “ex-offender” sticks, making you feel used, even though you want to show that you’ve changed. Richard appeared on BBC Radio 4 a couple of times, taking his experience of the arts forward. As a whole, Richard said he was hoping to go forward with the ‘bthechange project’, as it could open all kinds of doors.


Written by Paige Barber


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