PROJECT : Working with women within criminal justice system in Moray.

The group is now called RISE, currently we have devised and written a therapeutic arts strategy for this overworked department which builds on current thinking around this form of rehabilitation. 

OUTCOMES : Working closely with the social work team we devised and began to develop and carry out a course of therapeutic arts to complement the growing larger project with this marginalised group of women. It saw us take photo walks utilising simple polaroid technology which allowed the participants to grow in confidence and develop new skills. This is an ongoing project which will continue to develop in phase 2 of the AIM culture collective residencies as part of the portfolio of work developed by Graeme Roger (Wildbird). The work created during this early part of the project has been helpful in setting an example and a tone for the project according to my social worker contact Abby Roger. The  work produced was also shown at the end of show exhibition, once again elevating these marginalised voices and allowing both public and social work department management to see the benefits of and talents shown by this group of excluded women.

THOUGHTS : This is very much an ongoing project which is planned to continue in January 2023 and is currently being developed further building on the recent recognition it has received. Abby Roger received a certificate from  the Butler Trust Award for recognition of her contribution to the development of this innovative project. 

The main barriers, as I perceive them were twofold. One of the most obvious issues we had was delivery during covid combined with my monthly schedule (meaning one visit per month). We lost at least 4 sessions due to covid infections within the team and their families and it soon became apparent to me that what this project needed was regular artist sessions at least 3 fridays a month not just the one (friday was the day allowed for this project within the social work departments busy schedule).

The other issue which is common to large organisations and effects this projects development (as well as others I have been involved with) is the understandable risk averse nature of the management structures who sanction and support them. While the participants, staff delivering and supporting artists can all see the benefits, it is the management structures who become nervous of these new approaches and how the public may perceive them. The very nature of rehabilitation relies on giving the participants a new way of seeing themselves, building their self esteem and giving them self- belief, skills and confidence. While existing unpaid work systems do a lot of good for the community and do provide a degree of skills it also feels to me a little too close to the chain gang mentality of the past.

This is where tactically deploying the artist at an institutional level and meeting regularly with management can change the dynamic as well as fostering a better understanding of the artists role. This important part of this process helps develop trust and also develops a greater understanding of the role of the lead artist as a critical thinker, very experienced in this area. Too often the artist is simply seen as the facilitator of fun or creative workshops rather than an experienced strategist. It is important to integrate the artist into the team allowing direct conversations with the management groups, to reassure, to explain, to understand the limitations and also to support the social workers as much as the clients in what could and should become institutional change.

Art therapy in the criminal justice system has been proven to work when delivered in combination with good inclusive social work. This is witnessed in Joyce Laings art therapy program at Barlinnie prison with far more difficult cases than are currently to be found within the majority of the women in Abby’s program. Joyce edited and published her book on this program “Special Unit Barlinnie Prison: Its Evolution Through Its Art” which should be considered a seminal text in this area of art therapy within the criminal justice system and no social work department who deal with this area should be without a well thumbed copy.

The full engagement strategy I have developed is now with the social work department including very detailed research outlining the proposed short medium and long term benefits of this approach. It is also published within the research project area of my University PURE profile. Should any other artist or researcher working in this area wish to discuss this please get in touch with me directly.

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