Is a number worth a thousand pictures?

By Sarah Keen 25 October 2011

Anyone who has played a musical instrument, painted a picture or performed in a play knows that the arts are not the soft option. The arts may be enjoyable, but they also have the ability to engage people, to develop their skills and sense of responsibility, and to foster better relationships.

For these reasons the arts have long been used to help rehabilitate offenders or those at risk of getting involved in crime. And yet arts charities have traditionally struggled to provide hard evidence of their effectiveness, particularly in achieving criminal justice system targets.

Today we launch a report that explores whether the value of the arts in criminal justice can be shown through economic analysis. Commissioned by the Arts Alliance, the report takes three arts charities—Clean Break, Only Connect and Unitas—and quantifies the costs and estimated benefits of their interventions.

The three charities that we look at provide savings to the public purse as well as provide savings to the public purse as well as improve the life chances of the people helped. Our best estimates shows that these three charities provide returns on investment of between £3 and £6 for every £1 invested.

However, our findings could have been more conclusive with better data. Economic analysis has the potential to be a powerful tool for valuing the arts in criminal justice, but charities, funders and the government need to prioritise better data collection and access so that economic analysis gives the numbers that fully and accurately capture the value of arts in criminal justice.

You can download the full report here.