This study evaluates a music theatre project in a United Kingdom prison. The program was designed to improve the lives of participants by providing them with skills and new experiences. Eighteen women received theater and music education over a three-week period, which culminated in the women providing three performances in the prison. The evaluation studied the impact of the program on the participants over a two-year period using surveys, focus groups, observations, interviews, and diaries. Results show that the program had a positive impact on the women including new-found artistic, educational, and social skills, and improved confidence. The evaluation also found that the success of the program led to increased interest in expanding the program to other prisoners.
The program had a positive impact on participants. Participants reported new artistic, educational, and social skills, and improved confidence. The researchers found evidence that these impacts endure, as they were still evident for some participants even two years after program participation. The success of the program led to increased interest in expanding the program to other prisoners. The prison will be implementing an arts program specifically for self-harmer prisoners.
Significance of the Findings:
The evaluation points to performing arts programs as a means to nurture the positive personal and social development of women in prisons. Correctional officers or those interested in implementing programs aimed at improving the skills of prisoners could use these findings to advocate for arts programs in prisons.
The researchers analyzed the impact of a prison musical theater program in which eighteen women participated in music and theater workshops over a three-week period to prepare for and deliver three performances. The participants ranged in age, were in prison for various crimes, and included some prisoners serving life sentences. The researchers used surveys, focus groups, observations, interviews, and review of diaries to evaluate the program. Participants were interviewed, surveyed, and were part of a focus group before, during, and after participation in the program. The researchers also surveyed prison staff and audience members.
Limitations of the Research:
The evaluation focuses on 18 women who participated in the program. Originally 39 women volunteered but many dropped out of the program or left the program for non-voluntary reasons. It is possible that those who dropped or were removed from the program were inherently different from those who participated and findings from a whole-group perspective may have been different. Also, there is no comparison group so it is possible a non-arts related program would as, or even more effective. It is unknown if the arts program was the only factor that led to the positive effects the researchers identified.
Questions to Guide New Research:
Would other arts programs besides musical theater have similar effects? How do characteristics of those who discontinue participation compare to those who remain in the program?