Youth offenders motivated and inspired by art programme

MEDIA RELEASE:Department of Corrections

1 September 2016
A new arts programme is being delivered in Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit as a result of a partnership with tertiary provider SkillWise.

“Art is an important part of the prison education programme,” says Maree Abernethy, Principal Adviser Rehabilitation and Learning. “It offers offenders a new way to communicate and express themselves.

“We find that there is a great deal of latent talent in our prisons. Prisoners often surprise themselves with their skill, and that they are able to share a message or story they may have found hard to communicate in other ways.”

A prisoner painting in the Youth Unit, Christchurch Men's PrisonThe SkillWise Project has been running for six months and the beginning of the new partnership was marked by the completion of  artwork in the Youth Unit visits room.

“We wanted to give the boys an outlet for their messages and at the same time benefit the whole community, including their families,” says Gary Smallridge, Principal Corrections Officer.

“We wanted to harness the young people’s creativity and desire to leave their mark on their environment and direct some of this into something positive.”

The group discussed ideas and decided to create an artwork based on words that were important to them and their journey. This resulted in walls emblazoned with words like "family", "hope", "trust" and "truth".

“Many of the youth in the unit didn’t complete school and haven’t had any formal art tuition before,” Maree says. “Through the project they are learning about colour, using a paint brush, working together and engaging an audience.”

Three main areas of focus

According to John Grant, General Manager of SkillWise, the project has three main areas of focus: teaching skills through art, changing the physical environment, and encouraging continued engagement with the arts.

“The approach used by SkillWise encourages offenders to connect with others and helps to develop a range of soft skills such as emotion management techniques, the ability to work as part of a team, problem solving and adaptability,” he says. “Art in prison is about inspiring and motivating positive change. Art is an important addition to any prison rehabilitation programme and therapy.

“The ultimate aim of the project is to brighten up the Youth Unit, resulting in a more embracing environment and incorporating inspirational and motivational messages, and encouraging a sense of ownership and pride.”

Courses in the community

SkillWise runs courses in the community through its creative space, The White Room, and hopes the youth will continue to build on these skills and relationships post release. “A positive experience allows a prisoner to begin to have hope, and hope is what allows people to believe and envision that they will lead positive and productive lives on the outside.”

The project is ongoing but structured into eight-week modules. Up to ten young men take part at a time. The current group has six members.

“As the boys are often here for short periods, some artworks have needed to be completed by a new arrival," John says. "The painters have needed to find ways to articulate their thoughts and share these with the person taking on the next phase of the painting.” 

Making the visitors' space more welcoming

Troy* is completing a design started by a youth who has been released. “It is quite a big deal to be completing someone else’s work. It’s great to do something that will make the visitors’ space more welcoming and will say something about us. I am very proud of my work and showing it to my family.”

Gary Smallridge says it's the first time some of the youth involved have participated in positive artworks. “We have seen a marked reduction in the amount of tagging in the unit since the art project and the boys are taking more pride in their environment.”

Jack* is in his late teens on sentence for violence offences and was a reluctant participant in the group. “I stopped going to school at 14 and haven’t done anything like this before,” he says.

Maree Abernethy Arts in Corrections provides opportunities for prisoners to prove they are more than the sum of their crimes. “By providing arts education, prisoners are given a chance for self-reflection and an opportunity to create something beautiful. Whether it is a song, a stage performance, a photograph or a painting, they have created something that brings joy to others.”

Youth offenders motivated and inspired by art programme


Our funders

+ Text Size -