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Raising the profile of arts interventions in criminal justice

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Art By Offenders, 2011 Koestler Arts exhibition curated by members of the Magistrates Association

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Since 1962 Koestler Arts has been encouraging people in prisons, secure hospitals and other criminal justice settings across the UK to participate in the arts. The charity runs an annual awards programme which attracts over 7,000 submissions of fine art, music, design, and writing. It showcases some of the work through public exhibitions and events, and also runs prison outreach and mentoring schemes. 

Koestler exhibitions around the UK often feature interesting new perspectives in their curatorial approach – past exhibition curators include victims of crime, artist Antony Gormley, musician Soweto Kinch, people on probation, and, in 2011, a group of serving magistrates. 

For 100 Years of Justice, Koestler Arts and the Magistrates Association teamed up to ensure the voices of people with lived experience of the criminal justice system were represented among the participating artists. Koestler Arts sent the invitation to participate to past Koestler Awards participants, some of whom are represented in the final show.

To find out more, and hear about 2020/21 shows in London, Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham go to

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Selected images from the 2019 exhibition

The Test, HM Prison Greenock
Nitrouonites: Future Fossils & Hi Man, Camden and Islington Probation Service
Untitled, Oakhill Secure Training Centre
Buster Boy, Bracton Centre (secure mental health unit)
Tiki Face, HM Prison Kilmarnock
Crazy Faces, HM Prison & Young Offender Institution Rochester
Carved Crayons, HM Prison Lewes
Stained Glass Superman, HM Prison Edinburgh
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The importance of arts interventions

Arts & cultural activities have a long tradition of successfully empowering people in the criminal justice system to turn their lives around. Evidence indicates that the arts can support the process of desistance from crime. Research by CLINKS, the ACE & MoJ funded National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance and the 2018 ACE report ‘Arts & culture in health & wellbeing & in the criminal justice system’ all illustrate how creativity in criminal justice settings can support improved wellbeing, awaken an interest in learning & can help people build positive new identities. Engaging in the arts can also lead to new skills & employment opportunities, as well as equipping participants with a desire to actively engage in their community & culture.

Fostering empathy, building family connections & playing a role in restorative justice, arts in criminal justice settings have also been found to improve safety & wellbeing in prisons & can play a role in building safer communities. The Justice Data lab found that simply providing access to arts & craft materials in cells, can have a positive impact on reoffending rates.

Arts interventions in criminal justice settings face major challenges - from a tough funding climate to operational challenges & public misconceptions - but there is evidence & growing recognition that access to the arts provides a springboard to positive change.

Our partnership with Koestler Arts supports this and contributes to raising the profile & quality of the arts in criminal justice settings.

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