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Art, Science and Desistance from Crime


Title: Veterans and Villains: Oral History and Penological Research Author: Fergus McNeil Last modified by: Fergus McNeill Created Date: 7/8/2008 9:08:27 AM – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Art, Science and Desistance from Crime

Art, Science and Desistance from Crime
  • Fergus McNeill
  • Twitter _at_fergus_mcneill

The plan
  • First a brief and selective review of the
    science about the process of desistance
  • Then some evidence about the impact and potential
    of the arts in inspiring desistance
  • Finally, some speculations about the
    relationships between arts, science and

Why desistance matters
  • Studying desistance forces us away from static
    models of people as offenders, criminals or
    prisoners and encourages an understanding of
    change(s) in personal identities, behaviours,
  • If we aim to reduce reoffending and to promote
    successful reintegration/re-entry, then
    desistance theory and research can and should
    inform the redesign of our institutions, cultures
    and practices
  • Caveat emptor This is not a program, a product
    or a solution it is a body of evidence in which
    policy, practice and community development should
    be embedded
  • A bit like the way in which educational
    approaches need to be embedded in an
    understanding of child development.

  • Persistence and desistance
  • Desistance as a process not an event
  • Natural versus assisted desistance
  • Primary and secondary desistance
  • Constraint-based, calculative, habitual and
    normative compliance
  • Secondary desistance and constructive, generative

(No Transcript)
From Bottoms and Shapland (2011 70)
Some key lessons about desistance journeys
  • They are complex processes, not events,
    characterised by ambivalence and vacillation
  • The involve re-biography (at the time or post
    hoc) changing identities (narratives) more
    than learning new cognitive skills
  • Prompted by life events, depending on the meaning
    of those events for the offender inherently
    subjective, hence individualised, sensitive to
  • Solicited or sustained by someone believing in
    the offender (or prevented by someone giving up
    on the offender?)... Hope
  • An active process in which agency is discovered
    and exercised
  • Requires social capital (opportunities) as well
    as human capital (capacities/skills) alters the
    context of (terrain for) the journey
  • Certified through redemption or restoration
    (de-labelling) finding purpose in generative
    activities constructive reparation

Supporting desistance
What role for the arts?
  • This section is based on
  • Anderson, K., Colvin, S., McNeill, F., Nellis,
    M., Overy, K., Sparks, R and Tett, L. (2011)
    Inspiring Change Final Project Report of the
    Evaluation Team. Details online at
  • McNeill, F., Anderson, K., Colvin, S., Overy, K.,
    Sparks, R. and Tett, L. (2011) Kunstprojecten en
    What Works een stimulans voor desistance?
    (Trans. Inspiring Desistance? Arts projects and
    what works?) Justitiele verkenningen 37(5)
    80-101 http//

Prisons, arts and desistance
  • Prisons are not promising contexts for desistance
    from crime insofar as they tend to
  • Delay maturation
  • Disrupt social bonds
  • Cement negative identities

The arts in prisons
  • Key claims of recent research on the arts in
    prisons include
  • Developing better relationships between prisoners
  • Developing better relationships with prison staff
  • Developing better relationships with their
  • Improving self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Improving engagement with learning
  • Developing communication and social skills
  • Enabling people to work as part of a group
  • Reducing reoffending???

Steps towards change
  • Caveats
  • Participants realism
  • No long term follow-up
  • Limited opportunity to test progress
  • No easy way to measure behavioural change
  • But
  • Qualitative data captures important steps towards
    secondary desistance
  • Coding Maturation, Social Bonds, Identity

Choices and chances
  • INT Do you think that these projects are
    meaningful to have in prisons?
  • LISA Aye, they are meaningful.
  • SHIRLEY They help people find themselves, as
    well. You learn about yourself.
  • LISA Like people don't think they're good at
    things and then they realize that, aye, they are.
  • SHIRLEY They are talented. Or maybe they make
    bonds with people and it makes it easier for
    them, some of them. Do you know what I mean?
  • INT Yeah, definitely. So, I think it's those
    things, which could maybe contribute later to
    whether you reoffend, or not.
  • LISA Aye. (National Portrait Galleries,
    Greenock, post)

  • ALEC Oh, aye, every single one of us will have
    to make that decision of whether we go to the
    licensed grocers or whether we go get the bus
    straight home. Every single one of us is going
    to have to make that choice. Because every single
    one of us has been locked up for X amount of
  • INT Right.
  • ALEC And we all have X amount of things that we
    want to do.
  • JOHN I know.
  • ALEC And our family want us to come home.
  • (Citizens Theatre, Barlinnie)

Social Bonds Family
  • RAB You got to remember. Theyre out there
    sticking by us. Putting up with all this crap,
    know what I mean? And its the good things they
    should be involved in as well, in our life, you
  • KENNY When we are put in prison, its not just
    us thats punished. Its our families as well.
  • RAB Aye, everybody round about us.
  • KENNY So, when youre doing something like this,
    its letting them see that youre trying to
    better your ways, so to speak. Youre not just in
    here being a thug. (Traverse Theatre, Castle
  • ALEC It was almost like you're family were
    coming to visit you at the end of your shift at
    work. (Citizens Theatre, Barlinnie)

Social Bonds Networks
  • ALEC Also I thought it gave me the opportunity
    to get in touch with people outside as well.
  • INT Okay.
  • ALEC You know, the Citizens Theatre. So it gave
    me maybe some chance of work. Some chance of...
  • INT connection.
  • ALEC becoming integrated back into the community
    again without having to rely on negativity, you
  • JOHN Aye.
  • ALEC And doors getting closed, you know? It
    afforded me the opportunity for maybe some doors
    to get opened. (Citizens Theatre, Barlinnie)

Identity (and performance)
  • You dont know how its going to go down and
    youre in front of the governor and the deputy
    and what not. I thought it was a success because
    I got my message across. I enjoy what I do.
    Personally, I think Im quite good at it and
    people agreed with me, you know what I mean? They
    thought it was good. (Scottish Ensemble, Polmont)
  • The warden was there. All the social workers
    were there. There was other people there. And
    it all came together like a proper concert. Your
    family could come in. I thought it was
    fantastic. Very good. (Scottish Ensemble,

Identity (and relationship)
  • ALEC To get people to come into the prison and
    actually want to work with us, you know, is
    amazing. It makes you feel quite blessed, you
    know? To think that people come in here and they
    want to help you put on a performance.
  • INT Yeah.
  • ALEC That's amazing cause I think sometimes
    people think you're just a con. You're out of
    society. You're out of the mould.
  • STEVE And they didn't judge us, definitely.
  • ALEC They weren't judgmental in any fashion.
  • INT Yeah.
  • ALEC They asked us questions. They wanted our
    input. (Citizens Theatre, Barlinnie)

Methodological challenges
  • Process and outcome, but what about when the
    outcome is to progress a long-term process?
  • Intermediate, soft, theory-based (identity)
    indicators versus hard (behavioural) data
  • Cost effectiveness? Short, medium or long-term?
  • Secondary versus primary desistance
  • What matters versus what counts

Singing a new song
Is desistance itself art?
  • From often unpromising raw materials, in often
    unpromising circumstances, people find the
    inspiration and
  • Learn to sing a new song
  • Author a new story
  • Paint a new picture
  • Sculpt a new shape
  • They dig the beauty out of the miry bog
  • They find a new foundation
  • If this is a (re)creative process, then we need
    to nurture (re)creativity

  • Desistance (transformation) as art
  • The art (and science) of personal transformation
  • The culture representation of transformation
  • Culturally transformative arts