Parklea Correctional Centre staff and Dr Evans outside the Centre

Transforming justice: The power of arts education

20 February 2024
Creating the cycle of social good from the classrooms
In a collaboration with Parklea Correctional Centre, Dr Jedidiah Evans integrates arts education in the prison system to reduce the rate of reoffending, while providing a transformative learning experience for our students.

There is increasing recognition within Australia that improving the learning opportunities of incarcerated people and reducing the likelihood of reoffending are urgent social priorities. The Australian taxpayer contributes over $6 billion per year to adult incarceration. In 2019, the former Premier of NSW announced a priority target to reduce reoffending by 5 percent by 2023

Dr Jedidiah Evans, a lecturer in English and Writing within the School of Art, Communications and English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, specialises in researching arts and incarceration, particularly prison writing by and about incarcerated people. He runs weekly creative workshops at Parklea Correctional Centre and also volunteers his time as an Associate Editor for Paper Chained, a not-for-profit publication that showcases the creative work of incarcerated people. He has worked to incorporate prison arts and education into our University’s curriculum, co-designing programs for incarcerated people and university students in partnership with Parklea Correctional Centre.

Parklea Correctional Centre staff and Dr Evans outside the Centre

From left: Mr Brian Gurney, General Manager, Parklea Correctional Centre; Ms Maryam Suren, Cultural Advisor, Parklea Correctional Centre; Dr Jed Evans, Lecturer in Discipline of English and Writing. Image supplied by Parklea Correctional Centre.

Creative programs play an important role in many prisons' education and reducing reoffending strategies, as they have been found to help improve inmates' mental health and wellbeing. (RAND, 2014Parklea Correctional Centre in Western Sydney is operated by MTC Australia on behalf of Corrective Services NSW. Senior staff at the prison were keen to collaborate with Dr Evans on a new project, since he had been running an established creative workshop at the prison for more than four years. With Parklea’s support, Dr Evans incorporated a real-world case study, ‘Arts in Incarceration’ into an elective Interdisciplinary Impact unit, providing opportunity for students to address the complex challenge of incarceration through various methodologies and examine our social attitudes toward the imprisoned. 

In this unit, our students developed their own research questions related to arts, incarceration, and education. Some research projects explored the possibility of running creative workshops in remand centres, researching the efficacy of arts programs to reduce reoffending and exploring specific visual arts workshops in local facilities. They received letters from incarcerated people describing their first-hand experience of education in prisons and engaged with an advisory panel of people who have experienced incarceration. The incarcerated participants helped shape and improve the work these students produced over the semester. Passionate and high-performing students were then invited to present their research to a roundtable of incarcerated men, correctional staff, and prison executives, with the hope that some ideas be developed into concrete projects led by Dr Evans and Parklea. 

Ms Kate Pham, Head of Reducing Reoffending, Parklea Correctional Centre, highlighted the impact this case study offered to the prison and incarcerated people: “Inmates do not normally have access to higher level education and resources that assist them from adapting to new ways of thinking and living.” 

By having the students’ presentation and the round table discussion, the inmates get the opportunity to learn new knowledge, build resilience, and gain life experiences.
Ms Kate Pham, Head of Reducing Reoffending, Parklea Correctional Centre
Darcey Thompson on the University Camperdown campus.

Darcey Thompson, student, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies – Neuroscience / Sociology

The case study enables our students to see a meaningful alignment between their learning, their values, and how the arts can improve the lives of incarcerated people, including through improving self-awareness and positive well-being.

“Applying my knowledge and perspective gained from my study was a truly enriching and valuable experience. This project enabled me to apply sociological perspectives and understandings of incarceration and the prison system to help develop possible solutions in an Australian context,” Darcey Thompson expresses.

As someone privileged to be receiving higher education, it is important to recognise my capability to enact real change in our world.
Darcey Thompson, Student, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Studies – Neuroscience / Sociology
Rebecca Yetman on the University Camperdown campus.

Rebecca Yetman, student, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws – Criminology

"As a criminology major with a deep interest in the criminal justice system, this case study showed me that I still have so much to learn. It gave me insight into the experiences and problems that we don’t hear about on the outside,” Rebecca Yetman shares.

“One incarcerated man shared with me that Dr Evans’ writing workshop helps them with their mental health and allows them to be more open and vulnerable with each other.”

Speaking with the men helped me see how an arts education is actively making a difference in their lives and has motivated me to get more involved and do what I can to advocate for change.
Rebecca Yetman, Student, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws – Criminology

The ‘Arts in Incarceration’ project has expanded into a network of enthusiastic students wanting to contribute to society beyond the classroom. They are looking to develop learning resources for incarcerated people, a digital archive of current and former arts programs that have run in correctional facilities across NSW, as well as running some pilot courses in Parklea across 2024. 

“The roundtable revealed the needs from men on the inside for educational opportunities and creative programs, and revealed to students how their own study and experience can make significant change in the lives of those on the inside,” Dr Evans says.

A partnership like this can provide student-learning experience, support the flourishing of communities for the incarcerated, and introduce both inside and outside participants to the life-changing potential of studying the arts.
Dr Jedidiah Evans, Lecturer, Discipline of English and Writing, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Through continuing collaboration with Parklea Correctional Centre, Dr Evans looks forward to involving more Sydney students to support programs and develop resources for the broader population of incarcerated people in 2024 and beyond.

The banner image was supplied by Parklea Correctional Centre.

Strategic Partnerships and Engagement

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Level 4, Brennan MacCallum Building, University of Sydney

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