Arts Education and the Desistance Process: The Role That Agency Acquired Through Art Plays in Supporting Female Offenders During Incarceration and Upon Release

The role and place of the arts within prison has long been the topic of much research and discussion, with varying opinions on its relevance and outcomes in terms of rehabilitation. In the most recent review of the female prison estate, Robinson (2013) suggests that ‘life’ and ‘independence’ skills should be acquired in prison in preparation for release and that expansion of such skills would compliment the additional skills that women learn in prison and offer a very practical response to the difficulties that they describe in their lives in the community. This research supports the notion that access to the arts within prison can form the basis of fostering such skills in order to support and accelerate the desistance process through the forming of identify, independence, personal growth and self sufficiency. Using prisoner access to the arts as a catalyst for the development of agency within the desistance process, this study critically examines the impact of arts education on the female offender during incarceration, upon release and their integration back into society. Comparable research conducted at two UK female prisons in England involves the case studies of a cross selection of participants including: repeat offenders, first time offenders, foreign national prisoners, lifer prisoners and young offenders as well as ex-offenders in the community. If agency is at least as crucial as structure in maintaining a positive life course and abstinence from offending, then the outcomes from arts based activities within the criminal justice system may have an important role to play (Bilby et al, 2013, 13). Through a series of interviews, this study considers the ways in which agency acquired through the arts can be applied throughout the continuing stages of rehabilitation once a woman has been released from prison with the aim of establishing whether the impact of arts interventions can sustain to the final stage of the desistance process, when someone actually ‘gives up crime’.

Bilby,C., Caulfield,L., Ridley,L. (2013) Re-imagining Futures: Exploring Arts Interventions and the Process of Desistance. Arts Alliance UK.

Robinson, C. (2013) Women’s Custodial Estate Review. National Offender Management Service. October 2013.