The arts in Queensland prisons

4 February 2011

In Australia, the national annual cost of the prison system is AUS$1.5 billion a year, equating to about AUS$70,000 per prisoner. And yet, writes Ross Fitzgerald in The Weekend Australian, more than 40 per cent of prisoners will re-offend within two years of release.

The column criticises legislation, passed by the Queensland Parliament, preventing the sale and exhibition of artworks by prisoners. It also discusses the role of the arts in rehabilitating prisoners and points to arts programmes in New South Wales and Victoria prisons.

“It is often the first time that inmates have come into contact with the arts and for many, it represents a significant moment leading to reflection, redemption and the creation of an artistic identity.

“Indeed, engagement with the arts can become the cornerstone of rehabilitation for many prisoners, especially those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds … Anything that can help prisoners build self-esteem may ultimately help keep them from returning to jail, which would save the community money.”

According to a 2009 report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian prisoners have significant physical and mental health issues.

A week-long snapshot of incoming prisoners in Australia during 2009 showed that 25 per cent had a chronic condition such as asthma, cardiovascular disease or diabetes; 81 per cent were smokers; at least 52 per cent consumed alcohol at risky levels; and 71 per cent had used illicit drugs during the previous 12 months.

The report also shows that almost 40 per cent of prisoners reported having had a mental ill-health.

The column continues: “The arts have long demonstrated a transformative role in the regeneration of communities and the restoration of mental health and wellbeing.

“There is clear evidence that active participation in artistic and cultural activities by prison inmates, whose work is recognised and sold outside prison, significantly improves prisoners' self-esteem.”


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