Picassos blur prison boundaries: Prison opens doors to exhibit etchings as part of programme to bring art to the people. Lynne Wallis reports

AN EXHIBITION of 31 Picasso etchings opens today at Leyhill prison, Gloucestershire, in the first show of its kind in a British prison.

The exhibition, mounted in Leyhill's huge visiting room, will be open to about 400 prison inmates, their visitors, local schoolchildren and the public. There are also 184 magistrates scheduled to visit the prison to see the exhibition before it closes at the end of the month.

The etchings, first published in 1942 as illustrations to a book entitled Histoire Naturelle, published in 1749, are secured with extra screws for security purposes. Sarah Byfield-Richards from the South Bank Centre, which organised the show, said: 'We had to think about security. The visitors will be here as well, don't forget.'

The etchings were bought for the South Bank by British Telecom for pounds 20,000 as part of their sponsorship programme for touring art shows. Barry Barker, who had the idea to bring Picasso to prison, said: 'The etchings at Leyhill are all about making art accessible to audiences who would not normally have the opportunity to see it. We take works to hospitals, libraries and schools, and we thought, why not prison?'

Tom Williams, Leyhill's governor, said the exhibition was part of Leyhill's policy - as a prison that holds men who are mostly at the end of long sentences - of 'blurring the boundaries'.

He said: 'We try to make it easier for the men to adapt from institutional life to the community. By bringing in things like this and by inviting local children, drama groups, the disabled and the elderly in . . . we feel we are bringing a bit of outside life in here. And this helps the men to prepare for the enormous transition awaiting them.'

Russell Bradley, 35, has been in prison for 17 years for attempted murder and is expecting parole this year. An art student at Leyhill for six years, he has a place reserved at the Harrow School of Art and Design to study ceramics. Until yesterday he had never seen art properly exhibited. 'It is exciting for me to see these sketches. The energy is amazing and I can feel the movements of the animals much more strongly than through a book.'

(Photograph omitted)