Arts lifeline for prisoners

March 1, 1996

Arts projects in prisons are under financial threat because of the Government's emphasis on tightening security, according to Leeds Metropolitan University research.

Interviews and questionnaires conducted in 15 Yorkshire and Humberside prisons and remand centres found that inmates' involvement in arts projects helped them cope better with incarceration. Staff were also enthusiastic.

"It is the first time since arriving in prison that I have gone back to my cell and felt satisfied that the day had not just been another day in prison. For once I felt human again," said one inmate at HMP Wealstun in Yorkshire after a drama workshop.

The research has been commissioned by John Mee, a senior lecturer at LMU and director of the Alive and Kicking Theatre Company with the help of Yorkshire and Humberside Arts.

Mr Mee has been taking students into prisons to work with inmates for some time and has been overwhelmed by the response. "At first we had a certain sense of trepidation but in fact we have been very warmly welcomed and it wasn't long before the men themselves began taking the workshops which was marvellous," he said.

The research report includes a directory of arts in prisons in the region. But Mr Mee said he was worried about the future because of the emphasis on security. "Without further funding for visiting artists and companies, projects both outside and inside the education curriculum are in jeopardy," he said.

"The arts are seen as a vehicle for passing time in a positive way, and to be self enhancing and innovative by staff and inmates alike."

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