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The HM Prison Chelmsford Finding Rhythms project looks to work with young men to address their offending behaviour through the written word and music.

While the Prison establishment has used music production for some time, the focus for this project was largely around educational attainment.

In line with the VVU focus on reaching individuals at reachable moments, we sought to develop the concept of learning about music into also using this as a platform to address offending behaviour through written word and music.

In operational meetings, the issue of young people being targeted through ‘Drill Music’ was flagged as a concern along with the image that was being promoted alongside Drill Music on social media platforms. Through this project, the aim was to turn this around through engaging the men with a style of music they enjoyed but by changing the message of the lyrics in this music to something more positive and reflective of the reality of their circumstances.

The men were selected for the project by the Prison Safer Custody and Security teams and Prison Offender Management Unit.  A member of the VVU led the project, meeting with the men prior to the start of the course and during the course. The group’s focus was on exploring ‘identity’ as opposed to gangs. The end goal being that we would be able to understand what ‘identity’ means for the men involved. With the goal that they would be able to recognise the importance of having positive relationships in the community in their own right and move away from the risk of being associated with a gang due to the perceived feeling of ‘belonging’ or in some instances the ‘status’ that gang affiliation is linked to.

The men were all assigned a Prison Officer who attended all group sessions as well as offering the men one to one key work outside of the group. The groups reflected that completion of the course had improved their mental well-being. One group member described the course as ‘a form of therapy’. A number of the men described looking forward to the course and all reported that the course had encouraged self-reflection of the risks associated with their offending behaviour and the specific things, which had caused them to offend. Over two thirds said the course had helped to change their opinion of education.

There was also notable improvement in the men’s behaviour in custody and the improved mental health through positive engagement led to one prisoner coming off an open ACCT (suicide, high risk) status.