Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Growing concern as inmates make wreaths and window boxes for a good cause

Austin Treacy, Deputy Governor of Maghaberry Prison, with some of the festive wreaths which have been made by prisoners

Prisoners at Northern Ireland's main high-security jail have made hundreds of holly wreaths and other Christmas decorations for charity.

Hardened criminals sat down to horticulture classes to establish a virtual cottage industry behind the razor-wire-topped walls of Maghaberry in Co Antrim and bring a wave of festive colour to local homes.

Others took up saws and paint brushes to equip a new cell block with furniture, while hanging baskets and window boxes were produced during the summer season.

A report from Stormont's Justice Department said: "The development of the prison estate is an opportunity to create an environment which will promote change and rehabilitation, reduce risk and enhance public safety, at the same time as providing accommodation that is not only fit for purpose but provides value for money."

Prisoners in the joinery and painting workshops built furniture to equip a new cell unit, Quoile House.

Students at the horticulture and gardening classes produced numerous hanging baskets and window boxes. A total of 40 were donated to local care homes and a further 400 were sold, with a percentage of the profits paid to the charity Praxis Care.

Work shifted to winter and Christmas decorations in the weeks before the festive break.

At Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry, inmates involved in the Duke of Edinburgh voluntary award scheme teamed up with others in the joinery workshops to produce 350 bird nesting boxes for the RSPB.

Inmates with a creative side can also take part in a Prison Arts Foundation programme. On average more than a fifth of the population enrolled in projects.

"Many prisoners continue their artistic endeavours upon release and the foundation does what it can to encourage and support this important aspect of their re-integration into society," the organisation said.

A total of five artists in residence are working across the three prisons.

According to the foundation, artists with backgrounds in creating pottery and ceramics, sculpture or leatherwork can work with prisoners. Those with training in yoga, aromatherapy and relaxation have also been sought.

The organisation explained its thinking.

"We all have a moral compass for all decisions we make in the world. It can be argued that the reason that someone is in prison is because their compass is off-kilter," it said.

"In terms of producing a piece of theatre, the process of characterisation – getting inside of the character to portray that person on stage – involves walking their walk in physical theatre terms.

"How far is this from wanting our offenders to think about their victims using restorative justice principles?"

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