Art in Prison

Part of a prison mural at Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town, South Africa

Penny Eames has spent 25 years working with Arts in Prisons, Correctional Facilities, Youth training centres and youth clubs.   Some of that work has been the development of what she called ” Creative Spaces”  – these spaces were like a third place where artists and protential artists could come and try and then create a wide range of performing and visual arts.

Many people coming to Creative Spaces have never participated in arts activities.  In the Correctional and Prison facilities the spaces are often part of existing education units, but they still give access to the arts.  Most of the arts programmes set up are tutored by artists.   The programmes are performing and visual arts.


Two international programmes are best known and documented.  The first was  in South Africa and the second with the Anne Peaker Centre was in the United Kingdom.     Both these documents can be downloaded.

Training manual  download at Song­birds Art in Prison Train­ing Manual.   Anne Peaker Centre  Report download:    Report Black, Minority Ethnic Offenders in Prisons in England and Wales

In 2006 Penny Eames travelled to South Africa and conducted 8 workshops in 6 regions of South Africa in prisons to train offenders, prison educators, community artists and volunteers from the prison fellowships on how to run prison arts programmes.

The workshops were well attended and created an environment that would encourage and enable more offenders to have access to the tools of creativity and particularly cultural well-being.

There is a long tradition in South Africa for prison art, particularly choirs and singing, but also visual arts.  The workshops aimed to build on this tradition and provide a training manual for an extension and development of more programmes.

The regional workshops were held in the prisons in 6 different regions and people attended from throughout those regions.  The 7th workshop – divided into two sessions was a trainer of trainers workshop with the intention of making the whole programme self sufficient. Initially the programme was supported and nurtured by the South African Department of Culture and the Arts, but after the training programme it moved to the Department of Correctional Services.

These regional workshops were held in:

  1. Leeuwkop Prison, Gauteng
  2. Kroonstad Prison, Free State
  3. Westville Prison, Durban – KwaZulu Natal
  4. East Cape Prison- East London
  5. Pollsmoor Prison – Cape Town
  6. Modimolle Correctional Centre – Limpopo.

The workshops build on Penny Eames’s twenty years of working with art in prisons. She had written policy and developed programmes throughout New Zealand and had a bit to do with Australian Prison Fellowship programmes in Brisbane.

After working with the South African Prison Training programme, Penny Eames was contracted alongside Creative Exchange a UK organisation, to conduct a research project entitled Cultural Provision for Black, Minority Ethnic Offenders in prisons in English and Wales  Download:   Songbirds Art in Prison Training Manual


Anne Peaker Centre Arts in Criminal Justice

The goal for the Anne  Peaker Centre (APC) is supporting the arts in criminal justice and social inclusion through:

  1. Promotion and support of the use of the arts in criminal justice settings
  2. Embedding arts strategies within prison and community settings
  3. Undertaking and interpreting research
  4. Providing training links and advice for practitioners working within the field
  5. Advocating at a national level and influencing policy
  6. Sourcing and disseminating clear information, advice and support

In line with their desire to fulfil these goals, APC has is increasingly aware of the over-representation of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds as offenders throughout the criminal justice system and the need to advocate for the creative and cultural needs for this sector of the criminal justice sector.

Supporting this need they noted that in the United Kingdom:

  • at the end of June 2005 almost 25% of the male prison population and 28% of the female prison population were from black or minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds
  • in 2004/2005 black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 compared to white people, and Asian people were twice as likely.

With these statistics in mind, APC has commissioned Creative Exchange (and as part of the PSE Consultancy) to exploring some of the issues and challenges that this overrepresentation raises for the way in which arts activity is delivered in criminal justice settings in England and Wales, particularly:

  • to explore and investigate the interests of BME offenders in the arts field and issues of cultural relevance
  • to identify relevant arts organisations, trainers and practitioners involved in the delivery of culturally diverse arts provision, including music, visual arts, performing arts including drama and dance, photography, film and video, multi-media and creative writing
  • to identify current good practice as well as gaps in provision
  • to identify areas where capacity building is required
  • to identify areas where professional development for arts providers may be required.

The report documents the findings of research has been carried out by Creative Exchange between December 2007 and March 2008 should be available in April 2008. This project has required two visits to England, particularly Canterbury and will involve a visit to HMP Bullwood Hall – a foreign national prison in March 2008.     Download the report here.   Report Black, Minority Ethnic Offenders in Prisons in England and Wales

If you want to have further discussion about either of these projects  email: or visit us on our Facebook page:  Arts Access International.

Resources for people working with arts and correctional facilities or prisons   

Two important publications for free download:

Eames, P. S.  (2006)  Songbirds Art in Prison Training Manual:  PSE Consultancy: Published in South Africa by the Department of Culture and Arts.  Download PDF here:  Songbirds Art in Prison Training Manual

This is a training manual for people working in art and prison projects.

While the training manual was written for the South African prisons, it is still relevant to anyone working in prison and correctional facility art programmes.  Also relevant sections for all programmes with young people using are for people in contact with the law.

This 56 page document is illustrated with spectacular pictures of prison art, from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England.

Penny Eames has worked with arts and prisons for 20 years in New Zealand and was for four years associated with South Africa Arts against crime and Art in prison programmes.

Eames, P, Helen Gheorghiu Gould: (2008) CULTURAL PROVISION FOR BLACK AND MINORITY ETHNIC OFFENDERS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SETTINGS IN ENGLAND AND WALES:    Anne Peaker Centre: Canterbury, UK  as download the report here.   Report Black, Minority Ethnic Offenders in Prisons in England and Wales

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

gab mcintosh August 13, 2014 at 5:37 am

Hi Penny
I am very interested in policies, anywhere, that allow prisoners to see their art while still incarcerated? I am a Criminology student in Australia and we have some wonderful artists in our jails, particularly Indigenous Australians. Can u help?


Penny August 14, 2014 at 10:00 am

If you want any particular advice why not send me an email, Also I suggest you download the PDF of “Songbirds – art in Prison” While it was written for South African prisons it is relevant for Australian Correctional institutions. You might also like to research the New Zealand Maori Focus Units in our New Zealand Correctional Institutions. They use lots of Art programme and are very good at providing programmes that reduce reoffending.


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