Using arts-based approaches

28 Nov 2022
Ingeus commissioned independent consultant Russell Webster to undertake a series of ten evaluations (available to download for free here) across many different areas of its work as the lead organisation in the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (RRP) which operated in the East and West Midlands between 2015 and 2021. In a series of short blog posts, Mr Webster provides a more detailed look at some of the work he evaluated. This week’s post looks at Ingeus’ investment in arts-based approaches, including the unique ‘Talent Unlocked’ arts festival.

The arts and reoffending

Over recent years there has been a consolidation of the research evidence on the impact of the arts on reoffending with an emerging consensus that there is a clear link between taking part in arts-based activities and the movement towards a non-offending identity (known as “secondary desistance” to the probation profession). This is predominantly because becoming involved in the arts allows people to construct new, non-offending identities. Thinking of oneself as a poet, rapper, or artist rather than an “ex-offender” is a key staging post in the journey away from a life of crime. In addition to participation in arts activities enabling individuals to begin to redefine themselves, there are many other advantages to arts projects. Perhaps the most important is the way that arts projects succeed in engaging people in helping services. Artistic expression tends to build motivation and morale and people often go on to get involved in education and other helping services. Arts activities also create a safe space for individuals to express themselves and share their hopes and concerns.

There is a growing body of evidence that being involved in arts projects builds key employability skills such as teamworking, planning and organisation as well as increasing self-confidence and motivation.

Talent Unlocked

Perhaps my favourite evaluation of the ten that I undertook for Ingeus was my examination of the arts-based work that the organisation had invested in at Leicester prison. Ingeus was aware that an experienced member of its resettlement team, Simon Bland, had a long-term personal interest in the arts, particularly music. Ingeus decided to capitalise on this expertise by appointing Mr Bland as an arts specialist worker within the resettlement team at HMP Leicester, despite the lack of dedicated funding for such a post. 

The objective of this appointment was straightforward: to flood the prison with as many arts activities as possible to help people in prison to have the opportunity to:
•    Cope with the pains of imprisonment;
•    Develop latent talent and abilities;
•    Find a safe space for the discussion of painful issues to promote healing;
•    Become more engaged in the broader range of education and resettlement opportunities on offer; and
•    Develop a non-offending identity. 

In addition to a wide range of one-off events, Ingeus, in partnership with De Montfort University and Leicester prison, developed probably the world’s first prison arts festival. Talent Unlocked ran successfully over three years before being converted into an eight-week programme of arts-based broadcasts reaching 50 different prisons. Talent Unlocked became emblematic of HMP Leicester’s commitment to the arts which in turn enabled Ingeus to deliver a very broad range of arts opportunities throughout the year, many of them through an increasing number of partnerships with arts organisations from the local community. Ingeus was key in facilitating access to prisoners from local groups which resulted in those same local groups offering further opportunities to local prisoners on release and then to a broader group of people in contact with the criminal justice system in the Leicester area. 

Going forwards

Ingeus’ investment in the arts has provided a disproportionate return on investment. Participation in the arts has been pivotal for hundreds of people in contact with the criminal justice system in terms of their emotional wellbeing, unearthing and development of talent, increased self-confidence and feelings of self-worth, boosting their chances of living productive and fulfilling crime-free lives. The organisation continues to invest in this approach, creating a dedicated arts role within its delivery of Commissioned Resettlement Services and actively seeking partnerships with community arts providers to enhance the lives of the men and women it works with. Ingeus has created a new post which enables Mr Bland to continue to champion arts-based interventions across its range of services. The organisation is actively seeking opportunities to pilot arts-based programmes that are delivered through the gate and have more focus on employability, building on the UK’s established leadership in the creative arts industry.

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