On Tuesday 22nd January, our Art and Psychology students attended a lecture by Artist, Angela Findlay, who gave a fascinating insight into the positive role the Arts can play in the rehabilitation of prisoners.

After taking an early interest in the benefits of Art Therapy, Angela worked with inmates in Australia and Germany, before taking on the role of Arts Coordinator at the internationally recognised Koestler Trust in London. Their annual scheme awards ‘creative work in the fields of literature, the arts or sciences by those physically confined’, culminated in an exhibition at the Southbank Centre. When the first Koestler Awards took place in 1962, there were about 200 entries, today, there are more than 8,000. Angela was also founder of Learning to Learn through the Arts Scheme, employing artists, working in different mediums, to run four to six week projects in prisons.

Angela provided some sobering statistics about the prisoners themselves. An incredible 70% suffer from a personality disorder; 65% of adult males have a reading age of eight and 50% cannot write; and nearly half of adult offenders and two thirds of juvenile offenders will go on to reoffend within a year of being released. Angela also gave an insight into what prompted an individual to break the law in the first place, which included a lack of understanding and respect for boundaries; a desire for instant gratification, rather than working for something; a lack of empathy, combined with a tendency to over-react and lash out and low self-esteem, causing aggression.

To counter this, Angela encouraged inmates to work together to produce joint artwork, including huge murals that introduced a need to respect boundaries, which helped them to confront the sometimes devastating impact their crimes had on their victims. They learnt to understand that Art is a skill not obtained immediately, and that a successful piece of artwork requires hard work, discipline and patience. Using colour to understand emotions by matching colours with human characteristics, and encouraging use of bright colours rather than dark brooding ones, had a positive influence. Sculpture was an effective way to encourage self-control, as the slightest loss of temper or concentration, could destroy their work.

Another positive effect Art lessons had on prisoners was that it inspired and encouraged them to have confidence in themselves, acting as a springboard to other educational programmes. Some have even gone on to be artists in their own right.

Despite various setbacks, Angela has contributed to Government initiatives on prison reform and, once she has finished writing her first book, will return to this challenge. We wish her well!

Mrs Kate Mastin-Lee, Sixth Form Lectures & Futures Coordinator