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Name: Sarah Nussbaum 

PhD: Music and Criminology

Thesis Title: Music-Making for Rehabilitation: Assessing the ways in which musical participation impacts prisoner identity and the prison environment.


Thesis Description:

My doctoral project investigates the claim that music projects can be beneficial in a prison environment. It is held that projects involving music-making in prison affect the social environment of prisons and prisoner identity in a way that could be beneficial to longer-term rehabilitative aims.

In keeping with current academic trends, my doctoral project has the scope to be truly interdisciplinary. I combine criminological and musicological theory and methods, as well as borrowing from other disciplines such as sociology. Further to this, the M3C funding has enabled me to form a collaborative relationship with the Irene Taylor Trust, whose 'Music in Prisons' project has been taking music into prisons for twenty years and is now a leading provider of rehabilitative music workshops for prisoners. Subject to agreement from the National Offender Management Service, their work at one particular prison will form a case study for the project.

My thesis aims to address some of the gaps highlighted by a 2011 report by the Arts Alliance, which noted a significant lack of reference to scholarly literature in evaluations of arts projects working in prisons. It is this recognised gap that I seek to fill with my thesis: I aim to look specifically at what music does and how it does it in a prison context, drawing together empirical evidence and scholarly research. It therefore has the scope to be of interest to many charities using the arts as a rehabilitative tool and other organisations working with offenders in a variety of ways.

Government reports tell us that approximately half of all those released from prison go on to reoffend within a year of release. This has placed a national focus upon improving prisoner rehabilitation. The criminological literature on the effects of confinement makes it clear that the experience of imprisonment has long-term effects on offenders' abilities to live crime-free in the outside world – imprisonment affects the way inmates perceive themselves and how they relate to other people; it can strip inmates of their identity in a way which has been labelled ‘dehumanising’. Regrettably, this observation is given little attention in political discourse surrounding recidivism – rehabilitation success is almost entirely measured solely in terms of reduced reoffending rates. Indeed, the new 'Payment by Results' scheme rewards only those rehabilitation programmes which can show their positive impact on reoffending rates. It can be extremely difficult to prove the value of arts projects, the results of which can seem to be intangible. In accordance with criminological literature, the contention for my thesis is that helping to ameliorate the negative aspects of the imprisonment experience and providing means of coping with confinement are essential roles of rehabilitative programmes, and therefore understanding the ways in which music-making can have a beneficial effect on an inmate's identity construction and improve the social environment of prison are viable means of assessing the value a music project can have within the rehabilitation process. 


Supervisors and Institution(s):

Prof. Robert Adlington (Music Department: University of Nottingham)

Prof. Yvonne Jewkes (Criminology Department: University of Leicester)

Dr Kate Gooch (Birmingham Law School: University of Birmingham)

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • Conference paper: National Community Music Student Research Conference: "Creativity in a captive community: The benefits of music-making in prison" (International Centre for Community Music, York St John University, 25th June 2015)
  • Continued fieldwork with the Irene Taylor Trust 'Music in Prisons' programme



  • 2012-2013: MA Music (Distinction) - University of Nottingham
  • 2009-2012: BA Music (1st Class) - University of Nottingham


Other Research Interests:

  • Methodology in measuring qualitative data
  • Music as a tool for social change

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