Decorative Justice: Deconstructing the Relationship between the Arts and Imprisonment


This article synthesises diverse material to discuss both state use of the arts for the purposes of controlling prisoners and the broader public, and the use made of the arts by prisoners and portions of the broader public as tools of resistance to penal states. The article proceeds with an analysis of the politics surrounding and underpinning the philosophy, formation, operation, effectiveness, and research evaluation of arts-in-prisons programmes in the contemporary Anglo-American world. It argues that arts-in-prisons programmes and pertinent evaluation research are often employed as means to a variety of latent ignoble ends, with ‘decorative justice’ – the function of masking the injustices and painful nature of imprisonment behind claims of fairness, benevolence and care – chief amongst these ends.

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Published: 2014-04-02
Pages:16 to 34
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How to Cite
Cheliotis, L. (2014) “Decorative Justice: Deconstructing the Relationship between the Arts and Imprisonment”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 3(1), pp. 16-34. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v3i1.137.

Author Biography

University of Edinburgh
 United Kingdom
Leonidas K. Cheliotis is a Chancellor's Fellow in Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Law and Society at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the political economy of crime, violence and punitiveness, as well as on the implementation of criminal justice policies and their socio-economic consequences for targeted populations. In 2013, he received the Critical Criminologist of the Year Award by the Division on Critical Criminology of the American Society of Criminology.