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Art for arts sake/prison for prisons sake

I was in Liverpool at the weekend attending the ‘How violent is Britain’ conference, hosted by the University of Liverpool and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies which was attended by academia, policy makers and practitioners within the Criminal Justice System.

Whilst walking around the Tate in Liverpool, I recognised some unlikely parallels believe it or not between prisons and art galleries. It started by me thinking “who decided this was art? why is this piece of art here? and Oh that is a good idea” we all have our tastes, our ideas, our expressions, we are all different, individual. Every piece of art here is numbered, recorded and catalogued. Some piece have been transferred from other collections or other galleries, yet some are new. There are many flavours, many expressions and many tastes here. Security is high, you are watched.

Now let’s turn the page; walking around a prison my thoughts are “who decided this was a crime? why is this prisoner here? and that is a good idea” Every prisoner is numbered, recorded and categorised. Some have been transferred from other jails or other institutions and some are new to the system. Many nationalities many ethnic origins are represented here. Security is high, you are watched.

Which environment do I prefer?

In a gallery I look, enquire, have an interest, ponder, sometime write, buy postcards as a reminder to myself and to show others and then leave and return to my world.

In a prison I look, enquire, have an interest, ponder, write reports to remind me and to inform others and then leave.

The difference is I cannot just return to my world, what I see and hear surrounds my mind and my soul. I cannot just turn away, I want to be able to initiate change, see progress and ultimately see the Criminal Justice System reduced. That’s not to say that I want to close all prisons, sack all the police and let people live how they want. But there has to be an element of Restoration, just like a dirty canvas to reveal the true picture. I believe justice should restore and not just criminalize. Some pieces of art have a lasting impression on me the same can be said of certain prisoners. There is an uproar when we leave pieces of art to rot and in so doing deteriorate in front of our eyes so let’s not let people rot in jails and have greater problems on release than when they arrived.

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