Thu 21 November 2019
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Can writing stop prisoners reoffending?
An organisation that sends writers into prison to work with offenders is among arts groups across England that fear their funding is about to be cut. But can arts for prisoners save the government money?

Erwin James, a former inmate who served 20 years for two "appallingly serious" murders, says prisons are "full of people who are not very good at communicating effectively or appropriately".

"They can communicate with a pool ball in a sock or a razor on the end of a toothbrush or by shouting and bawling," he adds.

Prison figures

  • There are 85,419 prisoners in England and Wales (81,202 men, 4,252 women)
  • About 60,000 people each year are jailed for less than 12 months
  • In 2009, 59% of prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months were reconvicted within a year
  • The figure for young offenders was 72%
  • The average cost of keeping someone in prison is £47,000 a year

Sources: HM Prison Service, National Audit Office and Ministry of Justice

The 53-year-old says he went into prison in 1984 "with massive social inhibitions, I couldn't speak or to talk people, I was always acting, I was always trying to be somebody else - I didn't know who the hell I was".

"What we did in the group went back to the wing with us and made us more thoughtful and more reflective," he says. "Writing does that."

Communication is no longer a problem for James, now a successful author and Guardian journalist.

Read the full article here.


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