International Review of Education

, Volume 62, Issue 6, pp 689–709 | Cite as

The role of art education in adult prisons: The Western Australian experience

  • Margaret Giles
  • Lisa Paris
  • Jacqui Whale


Incarceration costs are high; in Australia, for example, each prisoner costs an average of AUD 115,000 per year. Other countries are also feeling the fiscal pinch of high incarceration costs, and a number of jurisdictions are now closing some of their prisons. Most prison costs are non-discretionary (accommodation, meals, etc.). But some of the costs relate to discretionary activities, services and facilities (including schooling). In terms of correctional education, many prison managers try to invest any meagre correctional education resources available to them in those classes and courses which have proven to have the best results, such as improved labour market outcomes and reduced recidivism, minimising subsequent re-imprisonment. Course offers for prisoner-students include vocational training, adult basic education (ABE) and art studies. The two-tiered question this paper asks is: do art classes and courses produce these measurable outcomes and, if not, are there other reasons why they should continue to be funded? Addressing these issues, the authors argue that (1) these measurable outcomes are too narrow and do not reflect the complex but less quantifiable benefits to the individual and the community of studying art in prison, and (2) better measures of all impacts of art studies in prisons are needed, including qualitative and humanitarian aspects.


Art studies correctional education prisoners welfare dependence recidivism 


Rôle de l’éducation artistique dans les prisons pour adultes : expérience de l’État d’Australie-Occidentale – Les coûts pénitentiaires sont élevés. En Australie par exemple, chaque détenu coûte en moyenne 115 000 dollars australiens par an. D’autres pays ressentent également les conséquences fiscales des frais élevés d’incarcération, et de nombreuses juridictions ferment aujourd’hui une partie de leurs prisons. La majorité des frais carcéraux sont non discrétionnaires (hébergement, repas, etc.). Mais une partie finance des activités, prestations et infrastructures discrétionnaires (y compris l’enseignement). En termes d’enseignement en milieu carcéral, de nombreux directeurs de prison essayent d’investir toute ressource éducative, si maigre soit-elle, dont ils disposent dans les cours et stages qui produisent les résultats les plus probants, tels que meilleurs débouchés sur le marché du travail et réduction des récidives, qui diminuent les incarcérations renouvelées. Les cours proposés aux détenus englobent formation professionnelle, éducation de base des adultes et études artistiques. La question à deux niveaux que pose le présent article est la suivante : les cours et stages artistiques produisent-ils ces résultats mesurables, et dans la négative, d’autres raisons justifient-elles le maintien de leur financement ? En analysant ces questions, les auteures constatent que (1) ces résultats mesurables sont trop restrictifs et ne reflètent pas les bienfaits complexes mais moins quantifiables pour l’individu et la communauté d’étudier l’art en prison; et (2) des mesures améliorées de tous les impacts de l’apprentissage artistique en prison sont nécessaires, y compris les aspects qualitatifs et humanitaires.



The research presented in this paper was funded by a 2011 strategic research funding grant from the Faculty of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University and by a 2012 Industry Collaboration Grant with Edith Cowan University and the Western Australian Department of Corrective Services.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Business and LawEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia
  2. 2.School of EducationCurtin UniversityBentleyAustralia

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