PRISONERS will not be successfully rehabilitated unless they are ensured regular contact with their families, a review of the prison system has concluded.
There is, however, an “unacceptable inconsistency of respect for the role families can play in boosting rehabilitation and assisting in resettlement across the prison estate”, the report’s author, Lord Farmer of Bishopsgate, has said.
Lord Farmer, a City businessman who has donated millions to the Conservative party, has long been a member of the congregation of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, a leading conservative Evangelical church in the heart of London. He has previously been a board member of Oak Hill theological college.
“I do want to hammer home a very simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it,” Lord Farmer wrote in the introduction to his report, The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime, which was released last week. “That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.”
Research by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows that if prisoners are visited by their family during their incarceration, they are 39 per cent less likely to re-offend upon release, the review notes.
Working with the families of inmates must become the “third leg of the stool” of rehabilitation, alongside the well-established principles of education and employment.
Lord Farmer reports one prisoner telling him: “If I don’t see my family, I will lose them. If I lose them, what have I got left?”
“We have to use all the tools at our disposal if we are to put a crowbar into the revolving door of repeat reoffending and tackle the intergenerational transmission of crime,” his report concludes. “In this era of ongoing constriction on public spending, family ties are themselves a resource that newly empowered governors can, and must, deploy in the interest not just of reducing reoffending rates, but also of creating a more settled regime.”
Among his recommendations were to make the protection of prisoners’ family ties one of the Justice Secretary’s formal responsibilities, and making prison inspectors specifically assess whether a prison governor is upholding offenders’ family relationships.
Prisons should also make more use of technology, such as Skype, to allow prisoners to make video calls to family members who cannot visit in person; for example, foreign nationals or those with young children.
If a prisoner cannot name a family member or close friend whom they would wish to contact on their first day after release, prison staff must take steps to reconnect him or her with a family, Lord Farmer also recommends.
As well as preventing re-offending, prisoners who have regular family contact are also more “stable” while serving their sentences, the report states. The current wave of prison disorder, self-harm, drug abuse, and suicide across British jails could, in part, be tackled by enabling more regular visiting from families.
But all these recommendations can only be successful if the MoJ increases funding for prisons and hires more officers, Lord Farmer warned.
“I was frequently told on my prison visits that, without boosting frontline staff numbers and changing how they work, any reform programme was very unlikely to be successful,” he wrote.
Spurgeon’s Children’s Charity has welcomed the review and urged the MoJ to implement Lord Farmer’s recommendations quickly. The charity’s chief executive, Ross Hendry, said: “Providing family support programmes, family days, or child-centred support services in prisons is not a luxury. If we want to really help these families, it is an essential part of writing them a new better life story.”
The Justice Secretary, David Lidington, said: “We are committed to transforming prisons into places of safety and reform, and we recognise the need to provide those in our care with stable environments, and opportunities to change their behaviour.
“There are numerous examples of good practice in this area, and we will continue work on a strategy to best support offender needs. That has to start with the numbers of prison officers available to support offenders, which is why we are increasing staffing number by 2500.”