Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK Report (2017) highlights ‘family ties at the heart of prison reform.’

10th August 2017

Lord Farmer’s report (2017) The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners' Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime was undertaken in collaboration with the charity Clinks and commissioned by the UK government. The report aimed to establish a link between a prisoner’s relationship with family and a reduction in reoffending. The report was part of the government’s strategy to overhaul prison policy, and according to Lord Farmer it is intended to be one of the biggest overhauls in a generation. The report was commissioned to act as a point of reference for the Secretary of State as he “rolls out the wider reform programme”.

Lord Farmer discusses the concept of the ‘golden thread’, whereby “relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change” (p 4). The report highlights that the ‘golden thread’ should be woven throughout all aspects of prison reform. The report highlights that understaffing, overcrowding and violence all hinder the ability to construct positive relationships between prison officers and prisoners, and between prisoners and their families. The government has secured an additional £100 million a year investment for an extra 2,500 prison officers, according to the Ministry of Justice Press Release. They state that this increase will help alleviate pressure on the current system, while also allowing the development of relationships through increased one-to-one contact and the facilitation of programmes where family play a crucial role in rehabilitation. The report highlights that the mere presence of family will not in itself institute change, but familial involvement in rehabilitation programmes that support increased familial relationships and prosocial behaviour would have a positive effect.

Key points from the report include:

  • Lord Farmer states that his overarching conclusion is that good family relationships are “indispensable for delivering the Government's far-reaching plans” as outlined in their white paper Prison Safety and Reform;
  • Reiterated for emphasis throughout the study is positive family relationships are a ‘golden thread’ that should run through all aspects of the new penal policy frameworks;
  • Combined with education and employment, family relationships create stability and structure to prisoners lives;
  • Having at least one supportive relationship throughout an individual’s prison sentence is indispensable to a prisoner’s ability to cope with their sentence;
  • It is noted that while family relationships instil all these positive aspects and support structures, the support structure and relationship does not necessarily have to be familial and where family supports are mentioned other such supportive positive relationships the lend to reform are also inferred;
  • In order to foster such positive relationships which are aimed at encouraging desistance and good behaviour, provisions should be in place to support families to create, maintain and encourage positive interaction between the prisoner and their family/support structure;
  • There has been a call for increased supports for the maintenance of familial relationships since the Woolf Report following the Strangeways riot in April 1990;
  • Research from a 2008 study (Factors linked to reoffending: a one-year follow-up of prisoners who took part in the Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004) shows prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39 per cent less likely to reoffend.

For more details, see the following articles:

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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