Passionate about social justice, multi-media artist Ange Leech was recently a teacher at Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison (EGRP), located nearly 400 miles east of Perth, Western Australia. With the Educational Training Unit at The Department of Justice in WA, Ange developed and facilitated arts-based educational reparative programs, meaning students were able to give back to community through their work they created. She is the only prison-based researcher among 64 Australians chosen to study in the United States for the next two years on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship which she won partly for her work with Aboriginal prisoners.
This September Ange will commence a Master of Arts in Peace and Justice at the Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, focusing on the role the arts can play in advocating for social justice and peace, developing new approaches to address the high incarceration rates among Aboriginal and marginalized populations in the US and Australia.
Tom Dougherty, Executive Director of the Australian-American Fulbright Commission said Angela was chosen “as a clear indication that we consider her work to be of direct and profound importance to Australia’s largest State. Ange’s dedication to causes that uplift those at the margins of society reflect the Fulbright mission to enrich underrepresented communities across the world.”
Originally from Tasmania, Ange’s desire to gain a deeper understanding of Australian History led her to the Eastern Goldfields where she has worked for several years in remote communities and at EGRP. Ange’s connection with Aboriginal people from remote communities has made her determined to take part in reconciling Australia’s recent history that still causes intergenerational trauma.
In Australia Ange worked with predominantly Aboriginal students to produce projects that focused on providing them opportunities to build skills and confidence to assist their transition back into the community. Outside prison she also developed and facilitated creative community driven arts based initiatives, collaborating with communities in remote regions.
Programs included teaching students to create bilingual short educational animation films that delivered relevant and important social messages about localised concerns for communities including substance abuse and domestic violence. Music projects involved producing an album of original songs sung in multiple Aboriginal languages including Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Pintupi. Music projects enabled students both gain skills in digital and literacy skills, express and promote their ideas through their art while sharing their unique languages and culture with broader audiences.
“Arts and music are incredibly valuable in prisons: they provide students both a means to develop a stronger understanding of the self and also provides space for them to bring their knowledge and strengths to the table, acknowledging their culture, idea and experiences” she said.
At the Kroc School, Ange hopes her scholarship will enable her to explore programs and systems that have proved most effective in empowering Indigenous populations in North America.
“WA and the USA share a diverse and rich Indigenous culture which is sadly affected by trauma and poverty-related issues including mental health problems and high levels of substance abuse and domestic violence, all factors that play a role in leading to high incarceration rates.” She said.
While on her scholarship, Ange will examine effective strategies and techniques developed by governments, law enforcement agencies, legal assistance and community service providers to address justice issues. Her research will also involve looking at recent amendments to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules), which have bought the treatment of prisoners, prison conditions and programs to a global audience.
Focusing on the arts in corrections on a previous research tour to California in 2016, Ange was hosted by the non-profit organization the Actors Gang Prison Project, where she was able to attend workshops within prisons and see benefits of these workshops on students. On the ground in San Diego Ange is particularly excited to share and learn from her US peers, developing projects that support both countries.
“There is an urgent need to develop new ideas and inclusive processes for multiple cultures and language groups, and I hope the Australian Government will consider international examples of ways to reduce incarceration and recidivism,” she said.
“What I found most appealing about the Kroc School is that the Peace and Justice program is led by faculty who work in the social justice field internationally. The school encourages students to engage with originations operating in their fields. This ‘hands on approach’ to researching means that you are able to serve both the key stakeholders and partners involved in the research, in this case prisons and incarcerated individuals.”
Ange worked in Western Australia’s Department of Justice where Commissioner of Corrective Services, Tony Hassall, congratulated her on gaining a Fulbright scholarship.
“We expect great things of Ange when she comes back to work with our prisoners,” Commissioner Hassall said.
“I commend her for her ambition to help some of Western Australia’s most vulnerable men, women and young people who end up in the justice system and for her research into ways to close the gap that exists in Australia between outcomes for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
The Fulbright Program offers generous scholarships to professionals who are passionate about research that will improve the lives of Australians. If you have a justice-related project you would like to explore, find out about how you might apply via the website.