Conference explored creative ways of engaging with offenders and the socially excluded

Creative ways of engaging with offenders and other socially excluded people was the topical theme discussed by a diverse range of policy makers, practitioners, managers, students and academics at the fourth annual conference organised by the Newport Centre for Criminal and Community Justice.

The Conference, hosted by the University of Wales, Newport, explored a range of constructive examples such as creative writing with prisoners, a women's project providing support and counselling, the work of local drug intervention projects, and a look at the Welsh Assembly Government's 'First Footholds' project which seeks to re-engage 11-19 year-olds in education, training and employment.

"The conference provided plenty of exciting and vibrant debate about one of today's most important topics as it highlighted the fact that ex-offenders are themselves often both victims and socially excluded," said Conference organiser Francis Cowe of the University's School of Health & Social Sciences.

"As well as being a forum for thought-provoking discussion and sharing ideas, the conference enabled a range of policy makers, practitioners and academics to make connections that may not otherwise take place. It also allowed our students to see the kinds of jobs and work going on out there in the real world and to explore some of the potential benefits and tensions betweens theory, policy, practice and research."

Among those speaking at the conference was Nick Keating, the Young Offenders Learning Project Leader at the Welsh Assembly Government, who reported on an innovative project called First Footholds.

"Although initially a small scale project, this has proven to be very effective at helping young people access housing, education, training and employment and services such as health care following their release and return to the community," said Nick.

"The project was most effective for those people who had reached a point in their life where they wanted to change as it provided both practical and pastoral help that enabled them to develop both personally and emotionally so they could make the best use of their opportunities. It was so successful that a third had not re-offended by the end of the project."

Another guest speaker, Clive Hopwood, talking about his work as a Writer in Residence in prison, said, "I spend two and half days a week in prison working with offenders, officers and other staff. It's probably the most exhausting and at the same time the most rewarding job I've ever done.

"Since it was established in 1992, the Writers in Residence Prison Scheme, has brought writers, poets, musicians and theatre groups into prisons and created a rich legacy of magazines, audio, video and live drama productions. It's great to see the Prison Service taking the arts seriously and realising that they can have an important role to play in the rehabilitation process as well as improving the quality of life inside - for both offenders and prison staff. People who put their energies positively into creative activities tend to get into trouble less."

For details of the Criminal and Community Justice and all other courses at the University of Wales, Newport, contact the University Information Centre on 01633 432432 or visit

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