It was fascinating to give a course on working with young offenders with John Vincent of The Network the other day. We explored the background to offending, the experiences that young offenders and their families may have had and the criminal justice system as it affects young people, before moving on to identifying the role that cultural heritage organisations can play and ways to break down barriers. It was only when I started to research the subject for the course that I realised just how much good practice in this field there is in museums, libraries and archives. Lots of great projects have totally changed young people’s attitudes to learning and to cultural organisations. Young offender institution staff and young offenders themselves talk of profound effects on confidence, self-esteem and behaviour – effects with the potential to radically improve life chances.
We were lucky enough to have a great group of delegates on the course, including two from YOIs, who all added a huge amount of valuable experience of working with hard-to-reach groups to the case studies we brought.
I was delighted to have been given permission to show an amazing animation created by a group of four young offenders over a 10 week course at Norwich Castle Museum. They chose to work on a group project re-interpreting the Castle Keep. The film is on YouTube, and well worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SNxvNcyCSo. Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service have been running projects with Norfolk Youth Offending Team for several years. You can see some more films made by young offenders involved here: http://lcjb.cjsonline.gov.uk/Norfolk/2803.html.
There are still a few weeks left to see some quite different artwork produced by young offenders, this time the product of partnership working between the National Gallery and Feltham YOI. Inside Art is at the Gallery until 1 May 2011: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/inside-art-2011. I found it very interesting not only to see the young people’s paintings and sculpture, lots of it extremely impressive, but also to find out about the items from the Gallery’s collection that artists and Gallery staff used as a starting point.
The Six Book Challenge has been exploited to fabulous effect with young offenders, so it’s really good to hear that the reach and impact of Challenge activity in YOIs is to be extended: http://www.sixbookchallenge.org.uk/news/boost-for-challenge-for-young.
For anyone interested in the background to youth offending, Libby Brooks wrote a thought provoking article in the Guardian last week about the impact of England’s worryingly low age of criminal responsibility. You can find it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/18/justice-10-age-criminal-responsibility.