While researching this piece, Boris Johnson hit headlines with his promise to create an additional 10,000 prison places in an effort to cut crime in the UK.
I can’t help but feel though, that the announcement is simply glossing over a larger problem – and that it’s not really doing anything to address the source of the issue.
At best it seems misjudged, though the reality is the intention is nothing more than stat-padding and filling false quotas to look like progress.
That sentiment is why organisations like Create, a charity dedicated to empowering lives through creative arts, are more important now then ever before.
The charity prioritises its work with seven groups: young patients; disabled children and adults; young and adult carers; schoolchildren (and their teachers) in areas of deprivation; vulnerable older people; young and adult offenders (and their families); and marginalised children and adults.
Given the government’s recent approach to offenders, that area sticks out for obvious reasons.
The idea in a nutshell is using creative arts as a way to reconnect prisoners with their families. Admittedly it sounds a little bizarre, these aren’t just white collar criminals, many have been involved in violent crimes. The image of these characters sitting down to create illustrations, seems, well, unrealistic at first.
Nicky Goulder, Founding Chief executive of the charity, told us what it was all about.
“I founded Create in 2003 with the dream of creating a fair, caring, inclusive society in which every individual can fulfil their potential.
“We design and deliver creative arts workshops that enable, upskill and empower the most vulnerable people in our society, breaking down barriers and enhancing wellbeing. We know from experience that drama can build an isolated young carer’s self-esteem, that storytelling can strengthen the bond between a young offender and the loved ones waiting for him at home, and that music can help ease the anguish felt by the parent of a child with a life-limiting condition.
“Every project we deliver is rigorously evaluated because we’re passionate about providing inspiring and empowering creative experiences that have a lasting impact.”
After chatting with Create, they told us about how once people were involved with the projects, it became another voice for them. A new way of expressing things that they may previously have been unable to tap into.
Whatever past mistakes had been made, there was a running theme that sparked a change in these prisoners. Their family. This is what the initiative revolves around.
Inside Stories is Create’s award-winning multi-artform project for offenders aged 18-25 in prisons across England.
Working under the guidance of the charity’s professional writer, visual artist and musicians, they work in pairs to write, record and illustrate original stories before working as a group to set these to music.
Following their performance in the prison during a special family visit, the children receive a copy of the professionally produced storybook and CD, an attempt to form a stronger bond among families.
Matt is a young lifer who took part in the project. Whilst in prison he successfully engaged in numerous offending behaviour programmes and trained in Advice & Guidance, Peer Supervision and IT Course Mentoring. After 11 years in prison, Matt was released a few days after Inside Stories finished.
“When I first heard about this project, I thought we would just be getting together to write a story. It was only when I found out a bit more about the project that I started to look forward to it. I decided to get involved because I wanted to feel connected with my daughter.
“I think the project has taught me how to listen to other people’s ideas and go with them. It’s also taught me how to put across my ideas without sounding too dominating. I don’t usually like talking in front of people, in groups. That was probably the hardest part for me but I surprised myself in that I managed it quite well.
“Projects like Inside Stories are important because you need to keep that family tie while you’re in prison. When the children start getting older and realise that their dad’s away all the time, it’s good for them to have a way to interact and keep that bond going.
“Writing this book has given me new ideas of ways to relate to my daughter. Susie’s only two and a half months old, so I haven’t had much time with her. When she’s older and can understand, hopefully she’ll feel that because I took part in making the book, the book is important to her.”
Whether or not the government’s latest approach to tackling crime works remains to be seen.
Of course I’m no expert, I’ll never claim to be – but it just feels like this is another leader failing to challenge the problem at its roots. Increased prison numbers is a short-term fix that may look good come election time but where does it leave us in five or ten years time when that hasn’t worked either?
The country has a systemic problem when it comes to classism and poverty, both contributing to the rise in violent crime. Until those in power fully admit that, it’s hard to see where the change comes from on a mass scale.