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Family visits crucial to reducing prison reoffending

Date:11 AUG 2017
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New research from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows that prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39% less likely to reoffend. Lord Farmer’s review, The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners' Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime, identified family as the ‘golden thread’ running through the reforms across the prions estate and says strengthened ties between prisoners and their families can help prevent reoffending and intergenerational crime.

In September 2016, Lord Farmer, in partnership with the membership charity, Clinks, was commissioned by the government to investigate how connecting prisoners with their families can improve offender wellbeing and reduce reoffending rates.
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Report findings

According to the report, progress is being made on a number of the recommendations, including giving governors the budget and flexibility to spend their resources appropriately to help prisoners keep important family ties.

The report mirrors the prior white paper and sets out how each area of reform can be strengthened by ensuring family work is embedded in the solutions proposed. Recommendations include:

  • the right framework for improvements, including how accountabilities and responsibilities for family work should lie in prisons;

  • raising standards and incorporating family work in all four areas identified by the white paper;

  • enabling empowered governors to harness a prisoners’ family ties more effectively;

  • drawing on families for their insights into the risk of self-harm or suicide;

  • developing leaders and staff which support prison staff and make family work an operational priority; and

  • requiring prisons to demonstrate mutually beneficial links with local businesses, schools and other bodies in the wider community and exploring the use of virtual visits using video calling technology for families.

Family is the ‘golden thread’ running through reforms

Introducing the report, Lord Farmer says family is the ‘golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it’ and that relationships are ‘fundamentally important if people are to change’.

At present, the challenges faced by those working in the prison system—particularly the under-staffing, overcrowding and violence—he says, are impeding their ability to build relationships with prisoners and weakening the development of programmes that would enable families to play a greater role in rehabilitation.

The clarification of responsibilities and the plans to empower governors he says are especially welcome. However, the ‘emergence of a rehabilitation culture inside every prison’, which the Secretary of State’s plans are pushing towards, will not materialise unless good relationships with families and others are built and prioritised.

Next steps

The MoJ has already started developing a strategy which will take forward recommendations from the review.