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Creativity in the Criminal Justice System

Find out more about our artistic approach to working with offenders

darts has been delivering creative activity in Criminal Justice settings across the South Yorkshire region for the past seven years. Money from The Bromley Trust, Evan Cornish Foundation and Catalyst funding from Arts Council England has allowed us to positively affect the wellbeing of individuals within services like the Youth Offending Service and National Probation Service.  The need for this work remains great and we are looking for further funding to allow us to hone our skills and build on our approach.

We use the arts to help offenders think differently about themselves, their behaviours and their futures. Through creative sessions with artists we see their skills develop and observe them communicating more effectively, working collaboratively, giving and receiving constructive criticism and making positive choices.

We also work directly with staff to increase their skills and confidence to use creative approaches to engage with offenders.

Being creative opens residents' minds to positive self-image as opposed to negative thoughts spiralling. It gets them into more positive patterns of thinking. – Staff Member

Over the years artists have taught circus skills, facilitated drama activities and introduced participants to DJ’ing and music production. Most recently, our visual artist has been working with small groups to up-cycle everyday objects, giving them a new and unusual lease of life! A rusty old bicycle is now a vibrant purple plant pot holder complete with bright flowers.

Not only does the repurposed bicycle add value to their environment, tangible products give participants a genuine sense of achievement.

I have really enjoyed coming to these sessions. It has really helped me. I realise that you let me go my own way with the art work BUT also that sometimes I have to listen to you to improve.

Staff have also told us our creative sessions give participants:

‘A chance to shine, have others appreciate and acknowledge hidden talents [and] increase self-worth and self-confidence.’

Despite being fulfilling, working with offenders in Criminal Justice settings does test our artists. ‘I don’t do art’ is a phrase we regularly hear and it takes time and patience to encourage residents to try something new. Attendance at sessions is voluntary and can be sporadic due to prison recall, probation meetings, attendance in court or personality clashes with other participants. Our confidence to deal with this has grown over the years and once participants give creative activity a try, it quickly becomes an important part of their routine:

These sessions really are the highlight of my week. I was gutted that I couldn't stay and finish off. I'll make sure I don't have an appointment next week. – Participant

Increasing amounts of evidence recognise the positive impact of creative activity with professional artists in Criminal Justice settings. Part of our success has been due to the emphasis we place on the artistic process and high quality product created. Staff in the settings we have worked in tell us that engagement in creative activity enables offenders to have better interactions, develop new behaviours and build new relationships that can continue outside of sessions.

I’m impressed with the artists’ fluidity and flexibility. They listened to what residents had to say and that meant they felt in control, as opposed to being controlled. – Staff Member


If you are interested in helping us continue this valuable work, or would like to find out more about our approach, please contact Lucy Robertshaw by email

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