The arts in criminal justice

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Fri, 15/2/2019

Head of Research Craig Robertson blogs on the role of the arts in criminal justice and Arts Council England’s new publication on this subject:

Arts Council England has recently published a large summary of evidence on “Arts and Culture in Health and Wellbeing and in the Criminal Justice System,” examining the evidence for arts in health and wellbeing and the criminal justice system - to inform their next ten-year strategic plan - as well as to support the development of future policy and practice in these sectors.  

It is a compelling report, which is especially timely for us at Nordoff Robbins, as we prepare for our upcoming workshop with the leading scholars in the world on music and prevention, which will be held in London in April 2019. For criminal justice, the report highlights the positive impact the arts can have for offenders as they seek to develop a new identity, and this is a theme we will be considering as we question how music might work to prevent unwanted health and social outcomes later in life rather than reacting to these outcomes after they occur. This is largely new, uncharted territory, and it will be the first time in the world that the question of music prevention has been asked in this context.

We look forward to welcoming Norma Daykin to our workshop, as one of the most prolific researchers in this field, and a key member of the Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing at the University of Winchester. Now Professor of Communication Sciences at the University of Tampere, Professor Daykin is one of the world’s leading scholars on the arts and health and wellbeing and her work is often referred to in this paper. Her studies have largely examined musical interventions that react to a situation, context or problem, but she is also one of the few scholars who have suggested how music might be used preventatively, especially within the criminal justice system. Other scholars that examine music in different sectors such as healthcare and political conflict, who are not mentioned in the Arts Council report, have also suggested how music might work as a preventative strategy.

The paper itself focuses on the criminal justice system and on healthcare and wellbeing. Music is heavily featured throughout but is skewed heavily towards the healthcare and wellbeing side, with considerably less evidence provided in the criminal justice section. The paper notes that impact assessment of cultural work in these sectors is often deeply flawed because projects are either not designed with “the rigour of pure research” or they are designed within the “hierarchy of evidence” preferred by government departments rather than the cultural sector. While this approach works well for medical trials or any scientific experiment, arts and culture do not operate in this fashion and this manner of assessment is not appropriate.  The cultural sector has generally responded to this challenge by either instrumentalising their work (singing improves literacy, for example), which lends itself to tangible evidence, or placing creative expression at the heart of what they do, which is much more difficult to assess in this manner. Impact has therefore been often assessed in terms set by the healthcare and criminal justice professions. There is, however, an increased call to accept qualitative evidence, such as forms of expression, memories and stories, to support cultural interventions.

Overall, this is a timely report that demonstrates a huge interest in the crossover between arts, health, wellbeing and criminal justice from researchers, practitioners and policy makers. It shows the evidence that is routinely demanded of service providers is often not fit for purpose, and that there is a need to challenge this at the policy level. Finally, the report indicates an appetite for an investigation into how arts and music can used preventatively in these fields as well as reactively as they are currently applied. 

Read the report here.