Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Why Prisoner Rehabilitation Matters
It's always good to step outside your comfort zone, and last night I did that in spades, when I formed part of the cabaret for the Arts Alliance Music in Prisons fringe event. My participation stemmed from THIS blogpost I wrote back in November 2008, when I criticised Jack Straw for banning prisoners from taking part in comedy workshops. Following the media hysteria, Jack Straw cancelled all arts projects in HMP Whitemoor and issued a Prison Service Instruction to all Governors, telling them that, when making decisions about arts interventions, they must ensure projects “meet the public acceptability test” and consider how the activity might “be perceived if open to media scrutiny.”
I followed Libby Purves and Jonathan Aitken, and several acts featuring ex prisoners who were there to showcase their talents. I won't say I was very good, because I wasn't, but it did make me think I would quite like to go on a stand up comedy course.
Surely if rehabilitation is to mean anything, the arts have a key role to play in helping prisoners discover some self esteem and maybe a talent they never thought they had. Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat.
I hope under a conservative government that will change. Being tough doesn't just mean locking people up and throwing away the key. A tough politician will take tough choices - and that means locking fewer people up and devoting more resources to preparing prisoners for life on the outside. Only in that way will reoffending rates drop.