Acacia prison inmates put on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

Prisoners at Acacia Prison are learning new life skills to help them better integrate with the community through a revolutionary new arts program. The program enhances the prison’s existing suite of education and vocational training courses aimed at reducing reoffending on release.

This week marked the culmination of months of work when the prisoners performed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream in front of an audience.

The ABC attended a preview performance. Director Nichola Renton (pictured below) told the outlet that almost all of the 25 performers had no acting experience or exposure to Shakespeare before the workshops commenced.

"They carry huge feelings of guilt and feelings of worthlessness, who have along the way lost or been given those skills to promote themselves in healthy way," she said.

"These men are so ignited by Shakespeare and performance, they will go and see plays, they will join theatre groups, and they will find healthy activities to do to stimulate them and give them that high.

"They've learnt to deal with anxiety and stress in a really healthy, productive way"

Inmates spoke to the ABC about how the program contributed to their rehabilitation.

"We are being taught confidence, the ability to present and discipline. To be accepted into the program you have to pass a clearance, there's homework and to work as part of a team. Those are the skills employers are looking for.

"This program has given me enough confidence to go out there and finish grade 12, maybe even uni. I can get a job, be a better father and better my relationships. That is the real benefit of this program."

Serco Director Nick Cameron said the program developed self-confidence and pro-social life skills increasing the chances of offenders gaining employment and successful reintegration into the community upon release.

“Acacia’s new performing arts program is one of many new education activities and programs created as part of the expansion at Acacia, to give prisoners opportunities to positively engage and to assist with rehabilitation and prepare for a positive, law-abiding lifestyle after release,” Mr Cameron said.

“It may seem like a luxury to do this sort of educational activity, however it is a way to engage some prisoners with learning for the first time. It’s then the gateway to dealing with issues of numeracy and literacy. It’s also a great way of building up self-confidence. Every bit assists with reducing reoffending”.

Five shows will be performed over four days attended by special external guests, family visitors and staff, provides offenders with a real taste of performing live on stage and working as a team. The performance is also an opportunity for offenders to learn about behind the scenes work including staging, lighting and music.

Read the full story on the ABC.