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The Value of Writing Programmes

Claudia Vince, about 6 years ago

It is often noted that educational activities in the prison environment are invaluable in lowering reoffending rates and improving prisoners' future chances of employment. While this is applicable to the vast array of formal education courses that run in prison, there are also a variety of informal activities that prisoners can engage in which are similarly likely to benefit them. Having the opportunity to practice their writing skills and be involved in writing projects not only encourages creativity and dedication, but it can also foster a sense of unity and camaraderie amongst prisoners with similar interests.

In some previous blogs, we have explored the positive impact that creative projects and sports activities can have on those serving prison sentences, in relation to improving future prospects and offering a break from the everyday routine. Much of the same positive experiences are felt amongst prisoners who have the opportunity to be involved in writing articles for prison newspapers, newsletters or short story competitions.

Writing can be a constructive and rehabilitative process, as it fosters imagination and careful thought, whilst developing an individuals' feeling of self-worth. In essence, writing can offer prisoners some temporary freedom from their current circumstances, allowing them to have control over the world they create and the words they use. This process can be cathartic and comforting, as it offers individuals a non-harmful way of articulating their emotions and often painful past experiences. For this reason, creative writing and arts activities have been linked to decreased levels of distress and self-harm amongst prisoner populations.

A fundamental aspect of desisting from crime comes in the form of redefining identity. As prisoners are so often stigmatised and labeled in a negative light, pursuing creative or academic writing opportunities may help them redefine their identity away from 'offender' and towards 'author', 'poet' or 'journalist'. Consequently, increased feelings of self-worth and self-esteem are likely to follow, allowing individuals to recognise the power they have to change their lives for the better.

Whilst improved writing abilities are likely to benefit individuals if they are to pursue qualifications, at the most basic level, such activities are also about providing prisoners with an avenue for self-expression. In an environment where so many feel they lack the opportunity to do something positive with their time, developing a love for writing can become a turning point for prisoners, which offers them a positive, constructive and enjoyable way to spend their time. In turn, experiences such as this undeniably improve prospects for release and help individuals develop particular skills, such as discipline, dedication and patience which are vital for future successful employment.