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The government has been urged to strengthen family ties to prisoners as it strives to reform the system and cut reoffending rates.

In a landmark review, Lord Michael Farmer points to the importance of family connections as being a critical part of the process in helping offenders turn their lives around.

Golden thread

His review, ‘Importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime’, suggests family relationships are “the golden thread” in helping reduce reoffending and comes as Ministry of Justice research shows prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend.

He was commissioned by the government in September 2016 to work in partnership with the charity Clinks – which supports, represents and campaigns for the voluntary sector working with offenders - to investigate how connecting prisoners with their families can improve offender wellbeing, assist in keeping the public safe and reduce reoffending.
Lord Farmer acknowledged there was little room for the sentimental thought that the presence of families could “alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law abiding.”

However, he added: “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. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.”

Reducing the risk of reoffending

With reoffending costing society £15 billion every year, the Ministry of Justice has started developing a strategy to take the review recommendations forward, such as giving governors the budget and flexibility to spend resources helping prisoners maintain family ties.

Additionally, significant relationship performance measures, which will provide guidance to deliver more consistent services in areas such as visitations across the prisons estate, are people piloted.

Direct offender support

In welcoming the recommendations, Justice Secretary David Lidington echoed Lord Farmer’s view that family relationships are essential to reducing reoffending.

He pointed to moves to increase prison officer numbers by 2,500 to directly support offenders and also how a number of prisons already have defined programmes, which put family relationships at the centre of the process.

There are also schemes and partnerships for preparing men for release, such as Storybook Dads, a national charity that operates in 90 prisons. It helps fathers keep in contact with their children, by enabling imprisoned parents to read and record personalised bedtime stories to their children. Another initiative is Partners of Prisoners, which works with prisons to deliver more welcoming visitor environments.

Spreading best practice

For the report, the Farmer Review spoke to more than 1,000 men in prison and their families, voluntary organisations across the UK, prison staff and academics.

Clinks CEO & Deputy Chair of the Farmer Review, Anne Fox, said: “The review concludes that quality family services will help people turn away from crime and it will support families to cope. Voluntary organisations have pioneered best practice for decades, and now is the time to spread it far and wide.”

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