The Economist: When TED talks came to a British prison

Small prison reforms are encouraging but also highlight the lack of big change in the sector.

SOARING performances of songs from “Cats” and “Les Misérables” are unusual fare for a prison. But on May 3rd an inmate at Leicester prison brought an audience to their feet with his renditions. The recital was part of a TEDx conference, a popular lecture series that had never before been held in a British jail. In the midst of a prisons crisis, with violence against inmates and officers at record levels and crippling staff shortages, the event is an encouraging example of smaller efforts to improve conditions.

On a stage covered in prisoners’ art, inmates thundered the words of Shakespeare. An officer recited his own poetry: “I could tell you tales that would make you laugh…tales that would turn your stomach, tales that would break your heart,” he intoned. Organising the event was a logistical nightmare, says Phil Novis, the governor at HMP Leicester. But the enthusiasm of all involved suggests it was worth it.