27 May 2014

Without purpose and goals, organisations reduce their chance of success. Fortunately for Arts Access Aotearoa, the Department of Corrections has a clear target to reduce re-offending by 25% by 2017. To achieve this, Corrections has worked actively with multiple community agencies and service organisations, enabling them to provide innovative ways to limit the possibility of former prisoners re-offending and returning to prison.

Richard Benge and the Hon Anne TolleyThe news, conveyed at a morning tea function for Corrections’ providers involved in reducing re-offending, is that Corrections is halfway to achieving this goal already. Minister of Corrections, Hon Anne Tolley, and Corrections CEO, Ray Smith, told us that the reduction in re-offending is 12.5% – and it’s only 2014.

The Minister and Ray Smith were genuinely appreciative of the work of community agencies, acknowledging that strategic innovation by Arts Access Aotearoa and counterpart agencies is getting results.

An essential step to sustaining success in this area is to invest in people who can deliver innovative programmes that turn offenders to new and positive ways of thinking.

Michael Crowley to deliver writing workshops

New Zealand is privileged that Michael Crowley – writer, youth justice worker and a leading teacher of creative writing in UK prisons – has chosen New Zealand to deliver two workshops and establish relationships that will inform his doctorate research.

Arts Access Aotearoa first interviewed Michael in early 2013 about his extensive experience teaching creative writing to offenders and people at risk. Sixteen months later, he’ll be conducting a workshop for 16 writers and Corrections staff when he visits Wellington in late May.

Pillars representatives Tracey Mouat and Verna McFelin with Jacqui Moyes, Arts Access Aotearoa, centre, at the Corrections' morning tea“As practitioners working with prisoners, we have a responsibility to ensure that what we do supports the overall objectives of rehabilitation,” Michael says. “We need to be very clear how what we do – our techniques and approaches – support rehabilitation.”

You can read more in this month’s story Workshop on teaching creative writing to prisoners. If you’re interested in establishing a creative writing programme in your prison, corrections facility or community-based activities for people at risk, contact Prison Arts Adviser Jacqui Moyes (jacqui.moyes@artsaccess.org.nz).

Walking in Shakespeare's shoes

Arts Access Aotearoa has made a number of other international connections to increase New Zealand’s knowledge of best practice and innovation. You can see an example of this in the story Queensland prisoners walk in Shakespeare’s shoes. This covers the achievements of professional actors/facilitators as they build communication, confidence and collaboration with prisoners exploring Shakespeare’s plays at the Serco-managed Southern Queensland Correction Centre.

Based on my own experience using drama as a therapeutic and rehabilitative tool in forensic units, I know this is highly specialised and effective work. As with Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s Shakespeare in Prisons Project, these programmes are best provided by professionals trained in drama and in the facilitation skills required to support rehabilitation in a safe, productive environment.

Skilled facilitation

Without skilled facilitation, there is a risk that art is used only for constructive activity and the rehabilitation advantages are missed. 

Songs From the Inside musicians Laughton Kora, Annie Crummer, Anika Moa and Don McGlashanWork with drama and performance arts such as dance and music can move participants quickly along the skills and confidence path. If you have been watching the four gifted musicians in Maori Television’s excellent documentary series, Songs From the Inside, you will know what I mean.

Findings from recent research conducted by Arts Alliance in the UK bear this out. Research found that the instructors’ professionalism and artistic knowledge were important attributes for prison art tutors. Among the specific skills cited by programme participants were their instructors’ ability to establish boundaries on acceptable behaviour in class and inspire students to stretch their artistic capabilities. 

Trained facilitators, who are also artists and writers, are effective in leading innovative arts practice in prisons and inspiring positive results for prisoners and staff.

I hope your work or personal interest benefit from reading these reports.  Please let Jacqui and me know what you think.

Making international connections


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