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Inmate artwork shows value of program

A unique art exhibition in Brisbane has provided insights into the benefits of art therapy for prisoners.

The Release Research and Prisoner Art Exhibition last week at Wesley House formed part of a research project into the use of art to promote rehabilitation, healing, reconciliation, and recidivism prevention.

Principal researcher Sarah Tucker said the three-day exhibition, from 11 to 13 September, was an opportunity to collect “real-world, unbiased” data on the topic by having inmates present their work, and having the public evaluate it.

The tattoo artist, Nurrunga-Kaurna woman, prison art tutor and First Peoples Chaplain – who is also a former inmate – was able to shape the research by using her own experiences and perspectives.

Researcher Sarah Tucker

Sarah said more than 90 people attended the exhibition, which contained artwork including paintings, drawings, craft, collages, card-making, script-writing, illustrations and sketches.

The pieces were created according to an inmate’s skills and interests, and security rating. Inmates used their Integrated Offender Management System number to identify the work.

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The public was asked to provide feedback via an Anonymous Art Research Tool designed specifically for the project.

Sarah said respondents included former prisoners, prisoner’s families, researchers, homeless people, and representatives from community and legal groups.

“The feedback was overwhelming, from emotional release, to reflective, to affective – and a desire for more,” she said.

She said the research project – which was featured in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology in May – had been a success, despite artwork from only one of three intended prisons being accessible.

“There was a smaller than anticipated sample size, however this will still yield valuable data for the robust methodological technique applied, whilst permitting a foundation for further research,” she said.

Sarah organised the exhibition after seeing the results of the eight-week “Change the Design of Your Life” art therapy program she designed and implemented in two Queensland prisons in 2018 and 2019.

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The program has recorded benefits including: growth in inmate self-confidence through self-awareness and accountability; a reduction in violence and drug culture in prisons; inmate re-connection with family members through art; and changed habitual behaviours and strengthened cognition, especially for less-educated inmates.

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