Asia Minute: Prison Art Sparks Internal Debate in Australia

Sep 23, 2016

Credit Pixabay Commons

Art education has been used in prisons for decades. Today there are arts programs for inmates in Hawai‘i and around the country. There are national organizations from The Prison Arts Coalition to Shakespeare Behind Bars. But in Australia, a government move to cut some programs is drawing a backlash. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

New South Wales is Australia’s most populous state….home to the country’s largest city: Sydney.

It’s also home to about 12,000, according to the government’s latest count.  The state government wants to cut the number of full-time teaching positions inside prisons from 152 to 20….while contracting out about 60 jobs.  Many of the teaching casualties will be in the arts.

Minister for Corrections David Elliott writes on the government website that “between a quarter and a third of vocational programs are in art and music rather than areas linked to inmate employment.”  Government officials say the new approach will increase the number of inmates completing basic courses in literacy and numeracy….while also emphasizing job training.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation spoke to a former prison teacher who said “vocational training is ok for people doing less than five years, but for lifers and those doing long sentences, vocational training is not relevant at all.”  A statement from Arts Access Australia said “there is value in prison art programs for educating, improving and reforming individuals, while contributing security and cost benefits to correctional institutions.”