Creativity in a restricted regime

09 June 2021

Over the past challenging year, we have witnessed the resilience, determination and ingenuity of organisations working to provide safe arts provision in prisons. As part of our ongoing work with the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA), the Foundation recently supported the production and dissemination of a practical guide on delivering arts activity in prisons during lockdown.

To mark the launch of Creativity in a restricted regime: a guide for prison staff the NCJAA  brought together HMPPS, the Arts Council, prisons from across England, creative organisations and individual artists to hear how they continued their work during the pandemic, and to celebrate the efforts of the sector.

With prisons operating restricted regimes for safety, inmates have spent much of their time in their cells, without access to face to face activities and few daily interactions. Arts organisations have navigated the constraints by working closely and collaboratively with prison staff to deliver creative projects, often relying on basic technology or paper-based correspondence. They relate experiences which demonstrate that creative activity can provide a sense of purpose, motivation and a goal to work towards for people in prison. The arts can help to foster family connections and improve self-expression for those facing ongoing in-cell isolation. By determinedly working through the adverse conditions of the pandemic, arts organisations have continued to provide employment opportunities for artists and musicians, a boost to the beleaguered cultural sector. And by adapting their ways of working, previously prison-based organisations have begun to offer re-settlement support in the community and for vulnerable patients in mental health hospitals, meaning they are bringing benefit to new audiences.

The restrictions of the pandemic have encouraged prisons to establish partnerships in their local area and to focus on the creative community close by. This chimes with the Foundation’s continuing exploration of quality arts in criminal justice settings across our home county of Buckinghamshire. Before the coronavirus took hold, we understood that creative activity could positively impact safety, communication and well-being in prisons, as well as provide learning opportunities. Now, as Covid restrictions ease, we are committed to increasing opportunities for everyone to experience cultural activity and will continue to invest in life-affirming creativity well beyond the pandemic.