"Be not afear’d - the jail is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that delight and hurt not”
Nick - inmate Dartmoor Prison
Nick - inmate Dartmoor Prison
The Prison Choir Project's objectives are to rehabilitate prisoners, ex-offenders and people experiencing mental disorder or conditions of emotional or mental distress by the advance of the arts and culture, in particular through the performance of opera, song, and choral music.
We hope, through music and in particular singing, to provide a pathway towards establishing a reduction in reoffending, building self-esteem, improving self-confidence and employability skills for all those involved.
Arts with offenders – the benefits
Arts projects in prison are of value on a number of levels and benefit prisoners in many ways. We provide workshops and performance opportunities in Prisons giving inmates the opportunity to join forces alongside professional singers and musicians.
Raising levels of self-esteem, group participation, self-awareness, increased knowledge and skills are all of huge social benefit.
Rehearsing for a concert, committing music to memory, learning the importance of being a team player yet retaining individuality, all require hard work, commitment, endeavour, punctuality - an important skill set that can be used on a broader level beyond prison. Discipline and hard work are required to stage an opera in a prison.
Furthermore, arts projects offer hope to those facing a bleak period of incarceration. Shortages of prison staff lead to prolonged periods in which prisoners are left in their cells, sometimes up to 23 hours a day.
Arts with offenders – the evidence
Changing Tunes, a charity which runs music projects in various prisons in the south-west of England particularly, has shown the re-conviction rate for those who have graduated from their projects is 74% below the national average.
Only Connect, the creative criminal justice charity, more than halves re-offending rates, from an estimated 57.5% without the charity to 25.9% with the charity. This generates savings of over £3.2m to the criminal justice system over six years. Put another way, for every £1 invested, Only Connect saves the criminal justice system £3.06 over six years.
What we’ve achieved so far - our story
The Prison Choir Project has run three major projects in Dartmoor, Wormwood Scrubs and ISIS prisons. A recent performance of Carmen in Dartmoor Prison engaged 17 prisoners on the stage singing all the chorus alongside a professional cast and orchestra, with many more involved behind the scenes, designing sets, painting scenery, and set installation.
In ISIS prison over a ten-week period we worked with prisoners on a number of singing workshops – from jazz to classical song, culminating in a series of performances of both individuals and groups. The project was entirely self-funded.
In Wormwood Scrubs, in collaboration with the charity Only Connect, 10 professional singers and an organist joined forces with 12 inmates who prepared music for a carol concert for 250 members of the general public - 100 inmates also came to watch the performance. Feedback was immensely positive, many prisoners saying they could not thank us enough for taking the time to work with them and that the process had been the best thing about prison:
‘This is a blessing for me. It brings out the best of me’
‘Really enjoyed it and entertaining. Thank you for letting me take part.’
‘I really loved the choir and this has been the best time for me in Prison; I am really grateful for the people who take the time out to make it possible. God bless you all.’