Tag Archives: Art By Offenders

Music in prisons

One of the thorniest questions in any justice debate is “what is prison for?” Punishment? Rehabilitation? The protection of society? A mixture of the above and more? As far as punishment goes, the debate continues. Is simply being there the punishment? Is the prison simply the location where punishments (imposition of this – denial of that) are administered? The perspective of the victims of crime are often brought into the debate. Such a conversation recently unfolded on Radio 4’s Today on the subject of music in prisons (scroll down to 0743 – the time this item was broadcast).

The discussion was prompted by the installation of listening posts in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where visitors can hear the compositions of offenders. Reporter, Nicola Stanbridge, discussed the varying points of view with Sara Lee (Projects Coordinator, Irene Taylor Trust “Music In Prisons”), Dr Loraine Gelsthorpe (University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology) and a former prisoner. Needless to say, the conversations were punctuated by recordings of Johnny Cash from Folsom Prison.

Dr Gelsthorpe listed the rehabilitative benefits of involvement as including: “well-being, relatedness, confidence & learning.” These terms will surely resonate with anyone connected to the changes currently being wrought in Scottish education by A Curriculum for Excellence. Particularly withdrawn or troublesome prisoners, who had not previously taken part in education (in any sense that mainstream teaching would imply) were often targeted for this programme.

I looked in vain on the website of the Royal Festival Hall for a link to this project – but did stumble upon Art by Offenders (Koestler Exhibition).

I taught a guitar class in HM Prison Edinburgh (Saughton) in the late 80s. As far as I could make out (I was only there one evening per week) the most popular classes were Art, Music, Maths (numeracy) & Chess. These relatively informal classes ran alongside a more formal Open University programme.