A major scheme is being launched to teach prisoners “design thinking” so that they can break the cycle of reoffending and apply new skills upon their release.
Makeright is the latest initiative from the Design Against Crime Research Centre run by Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, which is co-funding the project with AHRC, Design Against Crime, HMP Thameside. The charity Sue Ryder is also offering in kind support.
The aim is to get designers inside prisons to teach a Design Thinking for Prison Industries course to equip inmates with new skills which may help them find employment when they get out.
Teaching to design, not just to make
Key to the project is teaching inmates to design as opposed to just learning making skills. The course will see them use their experience as former offenders to inform their ideas, according to a spokeswoman for Central Saint Martins.
“Many other projects are about teaching inmates new practical skills which although useful can provide opportunities that may be limited to casual employment,” she says.
The idea is that design thinking will be applied on the outside so that ex-inmates can start a business, as a producer of products or as a consultant with product designers. Practical design skills will also be taught but as part of a broader design education.
In all of DACRC’s work the aim is to design out opportunities to prevent crime at the beginning of a product’s development rather than creating defensive situations after a product has already been designed.
Theft proof bags
To this end Makeright’s design thinking method has already been developed by Design Against Crime, which has previously developed the likes of seating and bike stands as well as solutions for ATM crime and graffiti.
This is the first time prisoners have been involved in designing against crime too and they are beginning with bags, which Sue Ryder is selling in its charity shops.
The scheme aims to make prisoners “more resilient in highly competitive and changing work places” where expectations of employment “are often not met among marginalised groups” according to DACRC.
In most prisons “educational” and “work” experiences are disconnected and delivered separately, finds DACRC.
The new scheme will explore if and how design engagement with prisons may offer new opportunities to connect with hard-to-reach prisoners, while drawing on design to address the gap that currently exists between vocational and educational approaches for increasing employability among prisoners.
Design Against Crime director Professor Lorraine Gamman is calling for designers to volunteer as mentors for inmates.
They must be “good at listening and companioning others to be creative and be able to engage with the requirements of the prison environment,” says Gamman.
She is looking for qualified designers and students, as well as retired designers, who are able to give a minimum of one or two afternoons per week for eight consecutive weeks to work with inmates at HMP Thameside Prison near Plumstead, starting in July 2016. The DACRC team will provide two days training.
Gamman says: “I suspect design volunteers will learn as much from teaching as our team have from the experience of working in prison. In fact I hope very much that the Makeright project will promote empathy in two specific ways.
“First that volunteers will understand inmates’ lives and experiences better. Secondly that inmates will find their hidden and often better self and that this humanising experience will activate more empathy, which many “switch off” to survive the prison.”
Currently the scheme has been trialled by Central Saint Martins at HMP Thameside Prison near Plumstead, in the UK and at Sabamarti in Jail in Ahmedabad, India in partnership with the National Institute of Design, So far the project has generated strong design,prototypes, and the team hopes that the scheme can be rolled out to further prisons, if the Makeright label sells to Sue Ryder customers.
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