In this guest blog Kirsty Winnan from Superact looks at how Superact and Finding Rhythms can support rehabilitation as a key purpose of prison by providing opportunities for education, and how their work can offer people in prison a glimpse of who can they can be when they return to the outside world.
Last month, Justice Secretary Liz Truss brought new legislation to parliament defining rehabilitation as a key purpose of prisons for the first time. In my experience of working in prisons with Superact, a not-for-profit organisation which uses the arts to improve the health and wellbeing of communities, I have seen first-hand how engaging men and women in purposeful, productive activity can foster the personal and behavioural changes required to move away from crime. Superact provides disciplined and purposeful courses and opportunities to gain qualifications in centres of reform where people get a second chance to lead a good life.
The Prison Reform and Safety white paper and the recent performance measures for prisons announced by the Ministry of Justice focus on long term skill development and the contribution that reformed adults will make to the workforce. Superact and Pearson (the examining body) offer courses which address these specific skills, transforming many lives. Since 2010, our Supporting Employability and Personal Effectiveness (SEPE) course has been piloted in countries across Europe and is now implemented in prisons across the UK by Finding Rhythms, one of our delivery partners.
Gaining valuable qualifications
Finding Rhythms takes professional musicians into prisons to deliver 36-hour music-making courses. Participants are challenged to write, compose and record an album of original music, a process which requires essential soft skills like collaboration, communication, concentration, conflict management and personal reflection. Those who show consistent evidence of those skills are rewarded with a BTEC qualification called Supporting Employability and Personal Effectiveness (SEPE). Prison staff and practitioners note significant improvement in behaviour, and learners themselves report greatly improved feelings of self-worth and confidence in what they can achieve. To date, 95% of participants on Finding Rhythms courses have secured the SEPE BTEC certificate, a valuable qualification that they can show to prospective employers.
Working in groups, sharing ideas and being open to new ideas are skills that take time to develop. The course might begin with an atmosphere of mistrust and scant communication but by session 12, the sense of camaraderie and mutual support is palpable; I’ve seen a reluctant singer being cheered on and encouraged by his bandmates. Co-operation skills, team-working techniques and the ability to listen to each other and exchange ideas remain long after the end of the programme.
Staying on the right track after prison
The SEPE qualification helps learners to reflect on their success and many articulate the personal benefits powerfully and movingly. J, a learner from a category B prison in the South East, was nearing the end of a 12 week SEPE course during which he made a CD of self-penned songs with his fellow learners. He said, “I’ve seen so many of you change… come out of yourselves. It’s given me belief that there is a second chance in life.”
Using engagement and education as a tool, men and women in prison learn the skills to express themselves, often in a way they never have before. It gives them the chance to see what they can create and offers a glimpse of who they can be when they return to the outside world.
Independent evaluation of the SEPE course has shown that it boosts self-esteem and belief in the ability to change a person’s direction in life. We hope that courses like this, proven to help men and women achieve a more positive attitude that in turn leads to full time employment, will now become a requirement by law, with skills and support being made available to help people stay on the right track after they are released from prison.
The BTEC SEPE qualification has an important role to play in the Secretary of State’s aim to prepare men and women for life outside of prison by offering them the skills they need and the educational opportunities they may have missed out on in the past. It provides training and qualifications, equipping those in prison with skills for which there is a real demand from employers.
For further information or comment from Finding Rhythms, please contact:
Clare Annamalai, Business Director, at email@example.com or 07887 563357
For more information on SEPE and Superact, please contact Eleanor Pender, Head of Communications at Superact on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07966847580
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We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme