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Arts project offers new skills for young offenders'

[Monday 10 April 2006]

Young offenders have helped North Yorkshire prison and education staff celebrate, after winning national recognition for a project that helps young people learn through the arts.

Connecting Youth Culture, the youth arm of North Yorkshire County Council's education service, runs the course throughout the week at Northallerton Young Offenders Institute with the help of Durham's' New College.

Joe Stone of the Northallerton Young Offenders Institute, with his sculpture
Joe Stone of the Northallerton Young Offenders Institute
with his sculpture

The scheme encourages prisoners to explore poetry, song writing, drama and painting alongside more conventional basic skills such as literacy and numeracy to help them gain new skills.

For many inmates the conventional classroom approach to improving basic skills is not always the answer. Instead, the Northallerton prisoners are given the chance to explore the arts through painting, sculpture, DJ mixing, song writing, video-making and poetry.

They then have to record what they have done and write about their experiences.

During the three week course the young offenders are also able to achieve three written accreditations.

Councillor Caroline Patmore, the County Council's executive member for the youth offending service, said: "Inmates often have very low self-esteem and for many of them this is the first time in their lives they have achieved anything at all.

"Hopefully the course provides the boost they need to break the downward spiral of crime that sees them ending up in prison. It helps them explore their creative sides as well as learn basic skills and hopefully when they are released they can put these new-found abilities to good effect."

The innovative approach to rehabilitation for 18 to 21-year-olds has now been awarded an official commendation by the Butler Trust for the care of prisoners, as well as picking up the Prison Service's Yorkshire and Humberside staff team award.

Lady Odile Slynn, a trustee of the national Butler Trust, joined offenders at Northallerton Young Offenders Institute as they completed the Connect Programme. She presented the certificate from the Trust after attending an end of course presentation of songs, poetry and film.

She said: "I found your film and poetry really moving and you should be proud that the staff here have been awarded this accolade for helping you."

Del Stevens, Connecting Youth Culture project manager said: "They have done really well and have shown they are capable of rising to a variety of challenges."

Their work has also been entered for the national Koestler Award, an annual event of artwork from all over the country.

Joe Stone, 19, of Seacroft, Leeds, and an inmate at Northallerton Young Offenders Institute, played a starring role in the short film 'Sniffed Up', which tackled the issue of drugs in prisons. He said: "We got the chance to do hip hop art, write songs and poetry. I never thought I would be able to do it but I did.

"We also got to make a CD including the cover and make t -shirts for our families on the computer, which we put a lot of effort into. We had to do a portfolio including an evaluation report with a bar chart.

"I have learnt a lot and when I get out would like to start my own business selling in-car hi-fis - and not stolen ones either."

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