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Four decades of capturing hearts and minds with theatre

By Lucy Perman, Chief Executive at Clean Break

I was thrilled to receive the Criminal Justice Alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award last November. I’ve led Clean Break for 20 years and when I accepted the Award I acknowledged that, for many of us, working together to transform the criminal justice sector is a lifetime’s work and something we’re hugely passionate about.

clean break

Clean Break is a theatre company whose purpose is to bring to life the stories of women’s experiences of the criminal justice system. We do this by putting these stories on stage in theatres, at festivals, in the community and on digital platforms. We reach audiences in their thousands across the UK and beyond each year, and we partner with theatre venues, criminal justice audiences and other frontline services that share our goals and values, and want to engage audiences in conversation and debate about women, crime and justice.

Our high quality theatre productions are all originally written with casts of both professional actors and Clean Break Members – women who themselves have experienced the criminal justice system or been at risk of entering it. These women have also experienced first hand, through our programmes, the impact of the arts in achieving rehabilitation, especially when it’s delivered in a trauma-informed women’s space, as we provide.

Bringing these stories to life and helping audiences better understand why women get caught up in crime continues to be vital. New research from the Prison Reform Trust confirms that more women are being recalled to prison than ever before. This, together with the dangerous pressure on prison services and high rates of self-harm and suicide, continues to show how investment in community alternatives better serves women.

Challenging and changing public attitudes and perceptions is an important part of the solution. Theatre brings stories to life and captures hearts and minds – enabling people to find a way into a world that can seem far from their own experiences.

We’re proud to be approaching Clean Break’s 40th year in 2019 and of the company’s growth since its humble beginnings, when it was founded by two women prisoners in HMP Askham Grange. Sadly, however, in those four decades the attitude to women breaking the law, what drives them to do this and how we as a society respond, hasn’t changed much, if at all.

At Clean Break, we believe theatre and the arts are a vital part of engaging the public, bridging the gap between those in and outside of the criminal justice system. This will help achieve sustained long-term transformation for women, their families and society as a whole.