What are they doing in there?

PRESS RELEASE: Contact Eva Merz: merz@newsocialartschool.org / 07738532328

What are they doing in there?

– the first manifestation of an ongoing project about women in prison, criminal justice, politics and campaigning for penal reform.

“They let me peek through a hole in the door and I saw a girl lying on a mattress on the floor. She was on suicide watch the prison governor told me. A nurse was sat outside the cell, keeping an eye on her around the clock. That day she was one of six girls, but the record number was 33 in one day.”

Eva Merz, on a visit in Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only women’s prison.


Exhibition at Studio Warehouse*, Glasgow, 6/6 – 14/6 09 / Preview, Friday 5/6, 6 – 9pm


The majority of female prisoners are sentenced for minor, non-violent offences, 90% have drug and/or alcohol problems, 80% suffer mental illness and 70% have experienced abuse in their lives. Two thirds of them are mothers. Prison officials, specialists, reformers all agree, and all research and statistics point in the same direction: society urgently needs alternatives to the imprisonment of these women. Despite the evidence numbers keep rising. In 1998 the Scottish Government pledged to half the number of women prisoners within ten years. Back then the daily prison population was less than 200. Today the number is way over 400. What is going wrong? With this project we want to highlight the problems, build bridges of understanding by offering visibility and providing well-researched information, so as to challenge public perception of crime and punishment.


The exhibition features a Human Sculpture made up of women’s clothes, donated by friends from around the world, other art works by Eva Merz, an ‘archive’ of books, reports and statistics and a variety of films, including newly released Gangster Girls, a documentary from a women’s prison in Austria. See trailer: www.gangstergirls.at/en

Thursday 11/6, 6 – 8 pm: Public Debate Hosted by International Futures Forum

Speakers: Baroness Vivien Stern, who has spent a lifetime campaigning for penal reform, as Director of NACRO from 1977 to 1996 and as Secretary General of Penal Reform International from 1989 to 2006. Henry McLeish, former First Minister, who in 2008 chaired an independent commission into the future of Scotland’s prisons on behalf of the Scottish Government. Ian Gunn, Governor of Cornton Vale from 2006 to 2008, who has been involved and very helpful with this project since the beginning.


New Social Art School, founded by Eva Merz, is a collaborative arts project, a network of people from various backgrounds. Projects are informed by social issues that we have something to say about; research, meetings and interviews form the basis of work, which takes shape in various formats, including books and public art. We intend to communicate issues of common interest directly to the public and hope to encourage others to take part in the political debate and thus renew participation in and understanding of the arts.


*Studio Warehouse, SWG3, 100 Eastvale Place, Glasgow, G3 8QG / www.swg3.tv