01 Sep 2023

Five things we were reminded off judging the Koestler Awards

We were recently asked to judge the film category in the annual Koestler Awards – something we were thrilled to do, and an experience that was a joy. The Koestler Awards for arts in criminal justice started in 1962. Each year over 3,500 people in custody and in the community share their creative work by taking part. 

The feedback form asked what we had learned about arts in the criminal justice system as a result of our morning judging 11 fantastic films. We’ve been working in the CJS for a number of years now, through our Prison Radio project, Mental Health Media Production Unit, Radio Wanno, and other innovative projects, so consider ourselves familiar with the area, but it’s always good to stop and think. Here are a few of the things we were delighted to be reminded of.

Creativity abounds

The films we viewed and gave awards to were packed with creative thinking and demonstrated real talent. Within society there is a lot of stigma and judgement about prisoners, much of which is unfounded. Everyone has something they are good at, and these films showed that the talent that exists in the CJS is something to harness.

People need support

The best films were clearly those with good ideas and great technical execution. To do that people needed the education, facilities and skills to deliver something good. It’s through support, in terms of education, encouragement, and the tools to create that people can make the most of their ideas and talent. We can’t expect amazing things of prisoners if we don’t offer them access to opportunities.

Skills for the future

We loved the films that really thought about their purpose, audience, and genre conventions. The adverts were particularly amazing, and demonstrated real understanding and commercial viability. The prisoners who created them have skills that go beyond making film – they showed employability skills such as market understanding, teamwork and focus on detail, which will serve them well for future employability. Which is what it is all about – building people up better so that they get out of the system and lead a fulfilling life.

A sense of humour goes a long way

Prison isn’t fun. But some of the films we watched demonstrated real humour and were entertaining to view. It’s great to see personality abound, even during a very challenging and difficult time.

Education goes two ways

Staff in prisons are often overstretched and face stresses and strains every day. They too need support and help to best engage with the prisoners under their care. There were some great films explaining specific conditions or challenges that prisoners were facing, used to educate staff. We know from our mental health work and the statistics around mental health and suicide in prisons that more needs to be done to educate staff so that they can best help prisoners with their needs, and prevent deterioration. And sometimes the best people to do that are the prisoners themselves.