The Arts, Rehabilitation or Both? Experiences of Mentoring Artists in Prison and Beyond

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
The Howard Journal Vol59 No 4. December 2020 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12390
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 484–504
The Arts, Rehabilitation or Both?
Experiences of Mentoring Artists
in Prison and Beyond
Shona Robinson-Edwards is Lecturer in Criminology, University of Warwick;
Elizabeth Yardley is Professor in Criminology, Birmingham City University;
Morag Claire Kennedy is Lecturer in Criminology, Nottingham Trent
University; Emma Kelly is Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sociology and
Police Studies, Leeds Trinity University
Abstract: Mentoring within the criminal justice system plays an important role in re-
habilitative and desistance processes. The experiences of arts-based mentors are scarcely
documented. This study discloses the narratives of eleven trained arts mentors who sup-
port ex-offenders in continuing their artistic engagement. Findings show a number of
benefits and challenges for those who mentor ex-offenders, and their experiences convey
a message to new recruits. Reasons for becoming a mentor, limitations and constraints,
and mentee-focused factors are discussed.
Keywords: artists; arts; criminal justice; ex-offenders; mentors; rehabilitation
For several years, there have been considerable cuts to public services bud-
gets in England and Wales as part of government austerity measures. Pris-
ons and probation, in particular, are taking a hard hit. Often the volun-
tary and charitable sector steps in to fill the void (see Busby 2019; Hughes
2019; Ministry of Justice 2014; Wyld, Clay and Bagwell 2019). Mentoring
within the criminal justice system (CJS) is a topic of current debate, ‘due to
the focus on replacing short prison sentences with community sentences,
and developing new strategies to work with offenders’ (Kavanagh and
Borrill 2013, p.401).
The impact of arts-based therapeutic programmes on prisoners and
those on probation is documented, yet our understanding of mentoring
is underdeveloped (see Bozeman and Feeney 2007; Buck 2018; Singh,
Cale and Armstrong 2018) We felt it appropriate to explore the other
half of the mentor-mentee relationship, specifically studying the experi-
ences of artists who volunteer to mentor ex-offenders from an arts-based
2020 The Authors. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice published by Howard League
and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
The Howard Journal Vol59 No 4. December 2020
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 484–504
perspective. Findings suggest that the reasons for becoming a mentor vary
across the board, nevertheless it is linked to arts-based support, personal
experience and professional development. Second, mentoring in the CJS
has enabling and disabling factors, and last, the needs of mentors and
mentees are explored with regard to timings, experiences, and expecta-
Mentoring Those in Prison and on Probation
In a criminal justice context, a mentor is described as a person provid-
ing prisoners and those who are on probation with informal support, ad-
vice, and guidance. The Ministry of Justice (2010) has embraced mentoring
in its advocacy of the need for new approaches to reducing reoffending.
A large body of research explores the benefits of mentoring (see Chao,
Walz and Gardner 1992; Levinson et al. 1978; Ragins and Scandura 1999;
Roche 1979; White 2014; Whitely, Dougherty and Dreher 1992). This ar-
ticle is particularly interested in how mentorship affects those doing the
Holmes et al. (2010) state: ‘mentoring is best described as a series of
complex interactions between two individuals who have as their primary
purpose the growth of the mentee’ (p.336). Mentoring takes many forms,
some organisations recruit ex-offenders as mentors, others volunteer,some
are employed. All offer various benefits, ex-offenders bring about the pos-
sible shared experience of imprisonment and the latter can bring an un-
derstanding of life and processes outside of prison (see Bringing Hope,
The Koestler Trust, and The Samaritans). The mentoring process can be
beneficial to both mentor and mentee and the pairing seeks to promote
prosocial behaviour through guidance and support (Hucklesby and Win-
cup 2014). Through mentoring, mentors gain some understanding of their
own challenges and difficulties (Philip and Hendry 2000).
Mentors from similar backgrounds to the mentee in terms of gender,
race, and ethnicity, are reported to be effective (Fletcher, Sherk and Ju-
covy 2009; Jucovy 2006). Research has explored the optimum frequency
of meetings, with weekly contact deemed effective timing (Jolliffe and
Farrington 2007).
After twelve hours of contact with a volunteer mentor, there were re-
ports of improved educational attainment and improved relationships with
family,friends and peers (Tierney, Grossman and Resch 1995). Similar sen-
timents are echoed by Aitken (2014) where mentoring is thought to be ef-
fective at reducing reoffending when the meetings are longer than one or
two sessions: ‘we believe that the ideal mentoring period is six to 12 months’
(p.33). Though, as a largely unpaid voluntary activity, many mentors face
time constraints as a function of full-time jobs and family responsibilities.
The Impact of Mentoring on Mentors
As noted, very little is written on the experiences of mentors gener-
ally, and even less about those who mentor ex-offenders. The benefits of
2020 The Authors. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice published by Howard
League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT