Target Group: Offenders

Geographical Reach: South West England

Project Duration: 2010 – 2013

Project Funder: Big Lottery Fund, Medicor Foundation & DCMS in partnership with the University of the West of England

Project Manager: Patsy Lang

Project Aim

Musical Pathways wass a Big Lottery Research Programme project. It began in 2011 and saw Superact’s professional musicians enter a range of youth justice settings over two years to work with young offenders. The research is being conducted by our partners the University of the West of England (UWE) who are addressing the question of whether music develops confidence and a sense of identity in the young offender. Each of the nine music programmes consisted of six sessions of work led by Superact musicians with the aim of improving the confidence and personal skills of participants. These were all observed by UWE field researchers. The collected observations and data are now being analysed by the research team and their findings were published in June 2013.

Project Background

Superact has seen the great power music has to change lives. Through work in the Youth Justice System we have seen the way working with music fosters better relationships with peers, builds confidence, provides a sense of belonging, alleviates stress, and provides a sense of achievement. We have learned that channelling participants’ creative energy leads to greatly improved self-worth and identity.

Music has important cultural resonance for many young people who may find it difficult to express themselves, reaching young people in ways mainstream health and education services may struggle. Music is a great identity builder. Sense of identity is what everyone needs to exist comfortably within society.

This project has researched the young offender population, as this is the age when vital identity forming activity takes place. This research, which took place in 3 different justice settings, is principally interested in the long term effects of music intervention on identity forming and confidence, and its potential to turn young people away from criminal activity.

The Need for Research

Superact has worked in the Youth Justice System in the South West for the last 7 years, observing an abundance of creative skill & energy. Our workshops validate a young person’s creativity, empowering them to follow a positive path forward. The health of young offenders is significantly poorer relative to the general population. Most come from socially excluded backgrounds and experience higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, victimisation, violence or abuse, as well as high re-offending rates.

Although Superact understands the power of music, only through a proper research study, exploring whether music has the power to rebuild identity, forming a pathway away from criminal activity, can Superact have any influence on the Youth Justice policy makers and commissioners of music’s therapeutic benefits.

The Music Programmes

Superact ran nine Music Programmes, in YOIs, YOTs, and Secure Juvenile Units. Each programme had between six and ten participants. The many skills gained throughout the programme such as social interaction, trust & respect, confidence, communication, and emotional management, will be lasting benefits that shape participants future paths. A selection of officers, teachers, Education Managers,&  Heads of Learning and Skills, have been able to observe how a music programme works, and what the resulting benefits are.

Brief Summary of Research

Superact’s research partners are the University of Western England, (UWE,) Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, specialising in Offender Health. This partnership has greatly improved Superact’s knowledge and experience in doing research, and in disseminating findings to relevant bodies. We hope this partnership will be used in future projects.

The three year project of a mixed methods research design will yield both quantitative & qualitative data on the ‘lived experiences’ of young offenders. Qualitative interviewing (one-to-one and focus groups) was conducted with participants. Volunteer individuals participated in biographical research over the three-year period, following their pathways from before, during, and after musical intervention.

Biographical and phenomenological approaches explored how music can improve health and reduce re-offending. Up to 75 individual participants and eight participating venues will benefit directly from experiencing and observing the power of music. Findings will be published in June 2013, and disseminated to YOIs, YOTs, Secure Units, and to commissioners with responsibility for health, education and social care services, such as the Youth Justice Board, the National and Regional Offender Management Services, (NOMS, ROMS).

In Conclusion

Musical Pathways aims to improve health and well being, and sense of identity. The programme provides an alternative way of learning focusing on creative expression and ‘soft skills’, potentially a much greater need in the young offender community. Stronger personal skills can lead to better chances of success in education/employment. This programme will increase understanding of the value of soft skills. Working with the steering group, staff and offenders, will increase Superact’s understanding of offender behaviour, and how to create a programme that addresses these.

“It was nice that everyone was talking about music for a while and not about drugs and things. We have new respect for each other now.”

“It was a completely different atmosphere, not prison anymore. I feel more confident about hooking up with a band when I’m out.”

Prisoner participants – HMP Guys Marsh

For more details, email Patsy Lang, Senior Project Manager – Justice –

To access all Musical Pathways evaluative documents, please visit our impact page