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Choirmaster takes on Aylesbury Prison

Choirmaster takes on Aylesbury Prison

Published by Dan Gooding at 11:31am 6th January 2020.

Aylesbury Prison takes centre stage for the new series of The Choir on the BBC tonight.

Gareth Malone was challenged to create a prison choir and he'll be trying to do that with the inmates at the high-security young offenders institute.

The project was part of improvements being made at the prison, which has been in special measures since last March.

The two-part show, which starts on BBC Two at 9pm tonight, will conclude tomorrow.

Gareth has been invited into Aylesbury Young Offenders' Institute (YOI) by the prison's Governor, Laura Sapwell, who believes that singing and a choir programme could be one way to help offenders look at their past actions, with a view to challenging and changing attitudes and perhaps reduce the risk of reoffending.  

Aylesbury holds young men aged between 18 and 21, with many serving long sentences for violent crimes. The levels of re-offending rates among young offenders can often be higher in their first year of being released.  

With the statistics on re-offending in mind, Governor Laura Sapwell wants to see if a music programme could help young offenders change behaviours in the long term.

Prisoners at Aylesbury are serving sentences ranging from a minimum of 4 years to life imprisonment; she believes that a commitment to a programme like this could positively affect their rehabilitation.

In 2017, Young Offender Institutes across the UK came under significant criticism from Prison Inspectors and reform groups, with a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons declaring that all such Institutes in England and Wales are not fit for purpose. 

Earlier in 2019, Aylesbury Young Offenders Institute was put into special measures by the Ministry of Justice to try and address many of the facility's issues.

The main aim was to improve living standards and reduce the amount of time that residents spend in their cells by increasing work and education programmes and reducing levels of violence and self-harm. Since then, the prison has developed detailed and ambitious improvement plans to drive these changes. 

There are a number of prison Choir programmes already in existence and prison Governors who support these programmes attest to the positive impact on prisoners in multiple ways including behaviour and outlook. Laura hopes that this - the first Aylesbury choir - will be the foundation of a long term commitment to a music programme at Aylesbury YOI. 

Laura Sapwell, Governor of Aylesbury, said:

"This was a powerful project which has had a profound impact on the prisoners and staff involved.

"I truly believe that all our prisoners can turn their lives around and we offer a range of opportunities to work, learn and develop new skills to help them do this.

"Our prisoners have all committed serious and often violent crimes, but our duty is to protect the public by rehabilitating them so they are less likely to reoffend and cause further victims."

Gareth Malone said:

"I have seen what music can do in the many places I have set up choirs over the years.

"I'm hoping Aylesbury's staff and prisoners will get to experience how constructive this process can be. It feels like a good time to be at Aylesbury as it begins to look at and tackle some of the most pressing issues facing many Young Offenders Institutes up and down the country."

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