Prison rehabilitation plans will fail unless family contact boosted - review

Posted On: 
10th August 2017

Government plans to ignite a rehabilitation culture in every prison will fail unless the relationships between offenders and their families are taken more seriously, a new review has said.

Official figures show prisoners who receive visits from family or others are 39% less likely to reoffend than other inmates
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The report by a senior peer found there was an “unacceptable inconsistency” in the role families play in boosting rehabilitation across the system in England and Wales.

But it warned that understaffing issues in jails as well as low morale would have to be tackled first if reforms are to be realised.

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In November last year the Government published plans for major reform in prisons including an injection of investment, a boost in staff numbers and more autonomy for governors.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss said “safety and rehabilitation” were at the heart of the plans amid a growing crisis of disorder, violence and self-harm behind bars.

Conservative peer Lord Farmer was tasked with investigating family ties in the system after official figures showed prisoners who receive visits are 39% less likely to reoffend than other inmates.

The former party secretary said employment and education were embraced by the system to aid rehabilitation, but after years of neglect, family work should become “the third leg of the stool”.

“There is an unacceptable inconsistency of respect for the role families can play in boosting rehabilitation and assisting in resettlement across the prison estate,” he said.

“The clarification of responsibilities and the plans to empower governors 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 happen unless good relationships with families and others on the outside are treated as a much higher priority in many jails.”

The review found family work helped prisoners “forge a new identity for themselves” based on being better role models and reliable providers for their children or other family members.

Lord Farmer said Ministers must “use all the tools at our disposal if we are to put a crowbar into the revolving door of repeat re-offending and tackle the intergenerational transmission of crime”.

Among other recommendations he said prisoners who have no family members to contact should be reconnected with relatives or others they can build relationships with.


But, he said: "At present the challenges those employed in the prison system are facing every day – particularly the understaffing, overcrowding and violence – are impeding their ability to build relationships with the men in their care and hampering the development of programmes and approaches that would enable families to play a greater role in rehabilitation."

He added: “It was clear that these have to be tackled first and foremost if this Government’s reforming vision for our prisons is to be realised.”

Lord Farmer said the plan to boost prison staff by 2,500 by 2018 would ease the “deep and pervasive problems endemic across the prison estate” serving as a barrier to reform.

And he called for “broader change” in culture and said ministers must ensure family work is placed at the heart of all government departments.