Friday, 16 January 2009

The Public Acceptability Test

Planning meetings yesterday and today. Firstly with Molly to look at how we manage the TIE, Theatre for Young People and Drama in the Community modules next semester - all together we have over 50 second and third year students working out in schools and colleges and the logistics of making sure everybody gets a great experience is taking some sorting. Much of our work is focused in Hounslow, with the culminative Chiswick House project somehow tying everything together.

Today I went up to Camden to explore further collaborations with Keith and The Comedy School.

Following the attack on the companies work in The Sun at the back end of last year, which resulted in Justice Minister Jack Straw pulling a drama course at Whitemoor, the Prison service have released a new set of guidelines for Prison governors demanding that all activities going on in their Prison should meet 'the public acceptability test' avoiding initiatives which would 'generate indefensible criticism and undermine public confidence.'

Perception is sadly the primary concern here, whether the work is effective or not in crime reduction terms is of secondary importance. Between the lines this directive directly threatens most of the rehabilitation work done by arts organisations and hands power to the tabloids, the shock jocks and the reactionary right. The Sun and The Mail must be delighted, especially as the Governors are asked to refer any borderline decision to the Services' Press Office.

I suspect deeply that 'indefensible criticism' will in practice have more to do with loud clamour than with judicial scrutiny. It's a spineless sop of a decision.

Keith is a little more bullish than of late and senses that the third sector will come together in a concerted effort to reverse the decision and reinstate a more positive image for the role that the arts play in the criminal justice system. However, with a general election coming up within the next 18 months, both political parties will be want to posture and look tough on crime - as the self-fulfilling public acceptability test may well reveal -it's a vote winner!

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