The prison system is in crisis
There are many issues with prisons in the 21st century: over-crowding in cells, prisoners locked up for 23 out of 24 hours, increases in suicides and self-harm* and not enough support inside to prevent re-offending when on the outside. Ex-offenders are committing suicide once every two days. These complex issues have an impact on children and families, the wider community and ultimately the tax-payer, as the cost of incarcerating someone for a year is circa £35k per annum**.
Liberty Choir provides a second chance
Led by co-founders MJ Paranzino and Ginny Dougary, Liberty Choir provides a programme of high-quality singing and social development for excluded, isolated incarcerated men and women. It offers hope, support and two hours of freedom every week. The programme is designed to develop skills and self-confidence, open up the world of music and provide access to new social networks as the participants re-enter the wider community.
We currently operate in three prisons: HMP Wandsworth, HMP High Down and HMP Downview and are expanding into 3 additional prisons in 2020.
Volunteers from MJ’s four community choirs join MJ and her music teams visiting prisons to deliver weekly singing programmes where choir members sing alongside inmates, developing friendships and singing skills at the same time.
On release, our Liberty Choir graduates (ex-offenders) can then enjoy the continued support of friendship from this wider community with many LC graduates joining MJ’s Choirs.
Through the gate: support settling back into the community
This is when Liberty Choir graduates are incredibly vulnerable to re-offending and self-harm. Liberty Choir provides a through-the-gate network of volunteers who are there to support graduates in finding employment, GPs, attending appointments or meeting for a cup of tea and a chat.
We believe prisoners deserve a chance at rehabilitation.
*Self-harm reached a record high of 41,103 incidents in the 12 months to June 2017, up 12% from the previous year, MOJ 2018 According to The Guardian, once through the gate ex-offenders are committing suicide once every two days.
**Savings to the tax-payer because of Liberty Choir to date: more than £2,000,000 and rising with each new prison.
And it works!
We are in touch with close to 70 Liberty Choir graduates some of whom sing with MJ’s community choirs, others who perform with us at festivals, and some who just phone or message us to let us know they are okay.
Our success in numbers
- Over 300 prisoners have signed up to be Liberty Choir singers
- Circa 70 Liberty Choir graduates who are still in touch with Liberty Choir and haven’t re-offended
- 30 Liberty Choir graduates, including their families, attend MJ’s community choir events
- 16 Liberty Choir graduates have attended or still attend MJ’s community choirs regularly.
Liberty Choir Award
The Liberty Choir was Highly Commended in the Partnership Working Award 2014 as an NHS-funded mental health programme at the Shaftesbury Clinic Forensic Ward under Dr Gill Mezey.
“Before Liberty Choir, I was a revolving door prisoner…It is no exaggeration to say that Liberty Choir has saved my life.” Richie
“Liberty Choir began as a loving and safe space at the most desperate and fearful time of my life. It then developed into a community both inside and outside the prison that unlocked creativity within me. Liberty Choir has made me a different person and I have returned to my family a better man.” Ross
“What’s really exciting is the idea of the community that is created inside prison being transferred to a community outside…..people who have been released will – through singing – be joined with an external community which helps them find their way back into society….” David Gilmour, Singer, Pink Floyd, CBE and Liberty Choir patron
“I am delighted to be a Patron of Liberty Choir. I have visited many prisons and believe in giving prisoners the opportunity for meaningful rehabilitation. Choirs offer a great sense of community and support.” Cherie Blair, QC, CBE and Liberty Choir patron
“Such a deeply thought-provoking experience to go to Wandsworth prison to see the work of Liberty Choir….”Mishal Husain, BBC News Presenter and Host, The Today programme, Radio 4
“There’s so much wrong with our judicial and penal system, but there are wonderful people working tirelessly to do their best within a broken system. The Liberty Choir, for example, shines in the darkness.” Stephen Fry, Actor, comedian, writer and presenter
"Thank you Liberty Choir for bringing back my father" Ricardo, son of Richie
"Liberty Choir kept my husband sane and our family together" Vicky, wife of Ross
“Liberty Choir enriches and saves lives ….. I enjoy it, we have this shared emotional experience through social singing …. We learn respect for each other. It’s useful, fun and rewarding for the volunteers as well as the men and women …” Liberty Choir volunteers
We want to reach more people
We’ve seen that Liberty Choir can change lives. Now we want to bring the programme to even more people.
Prisons from all over the UK are asking for Liberty Choir programmes but we can’t expand further without more resources.
We need funds for:
- Music team expansion into new prisons
- Advocacy and publicity for the charity
- Managing the programme in the existing prisons
- Starting up the programme in new prisons alongside new team members
- Supporting the ex-offenders when they are out in the community.
We are aiming to raise £20,000 to strengthen and expand our Liberty Choir programme.
Who are we?
What do we need from you?
There are four ways you can help Liberty Choir right now:
- Donate using the links on the right hand side of this page. Pledging your financial support to Liberty Choir is the most direct way you can make a difference and we couldn’t be more grateful to have your backing.
- Share this page with as many people as possible. Awareness is everything and we really appreciate your help in reaching as many people as possible! Why not post to Twitter or Facebook now?
- Fundraise for Liberty Choir. Whether you’re doing a sponsored run, hosting community bake sale or asking for charity donations instead of gifts this Christmas, we’d love you to consider Liberty Choir as your charity of choice. Email us to tell us about your ideas.
- Join MJ’s community choirs and come along to Liberty Choir! Visit our website for more details.
We’d love to hear from you!
Maybe you work in a prison that would benefit from Liberty Choir, maybe you have contacts in the media who can help us spread the word. Whatever you want to share with us, we’d love to hear from you.