It's becoming quite apparent that the Tories realise they have an 'image' problem and that in order to have any hope of attracting young people and stopping the seemingly inexorable rise of Corbyn, they'd better start looking less nasty and more 'cuddly'. Over the coming months we can expect lots more really reasonable-sounding stuff from their spin doctors, like the recent report on how to reduce the prison population, cynically taking advantage of a hung parliament.
So it is in this vein that we see the completely ineffectual junior justice secretary with responsibility for probation writing on ConservativeHome about rehabilitation and never mention probation once:-The family is the best agency for rehabilitating criminals
Prisons are places of punishment. But they should also be places of reform. And the case for the ‘family’ in reforming offenders is clear-cut.
Stable, healthy families are the wellspring of a strong society because we all thrive when we feel safe, valued and supported. It is through a family’s unconditional love that from the word ‘Go’ we learn the big lessons of life: self-respect, self-belief – and right from wrong.
The reverse is also true. A fractured family leads to a fractured society and broken citizens. Unfortunately, too many of them will find their way to our prisons.
But while it is the state that incarcerates offenders, it is families and communities who accept them back into their midst at the end of their sentence. That means a prisoner’s family is the most effective resettlement agency we have – as the prison inspectorate, the probation service, and Ofsted all agree.
That’s not to say that families where both parents are fully engaged can’t be dysfunctional; nor is it to say that all offenders’ families are virtuous pillars of the community. But where the benefits of healthy family ties are so far-reaching, there is every reason to support them. alongside improving education and work training for offenders and tackling mental health and substance abuse problems.
Offenders are more likely to make progress in prison and afterwards if they receive consistent encouragement and support from family outside. It’s a theme reinforced by an excellent new review by Lord Farmer, who describes as a ‘golden thread’ the link between positive family ties and reducing re-offending.
Making sure this thread does not snap should be a priority for all those who want to see crime come down. Close family plays a big role in the future path an offender takes, and can have the most profound influence over behaviour. A close family gives offenders a sense of purpose and direction.
So it’s all the more vital that a prisoner returning home is neither a stranger, nor a more damaged person than before they went to prison – and that family ties are properly nurtured in the interim.
The time to work on this is from the moment an offender is sentenced to jail. To leave it any longer is to leave it too late. In the first few days and nights in prison sentence, when offenders are more likely to self-harm or, worse, take their own life, support from close family lessens the risk. As prison officers know only too well, family letters, phone calls and visits – or their absence – can make or break a prisoner’s spirit.
As time goes by, we know that a prisoner who remains in close touch with family is likely to have a stronger sense of purpose and direction, and feel more settled. Multiply this improved mood by all the men on a wing and it becomes a safer, more productive place.
There are already many prison schemes that focus on family ties. ‘Storybook Dads and Mums’, for example – a bedtime reading project that lets kids drift off to sleep listening to their absent parent reading out a pre-recorded story. HMP Parc’s ‘Learning Together’ Club encourages dads and children to do homework together, while at HMP Doncaster, a ‘Daddy Newborn’ scheme teaches men to look after their babies.
Away from these projects, I want to tell you about two men I recently met, a father and son. They’d never had a proper parent-child dynamic but were being encouraged to work on building the kind of natural relationship most of us take for granted – pretty much from scratch.
Where was this happening? In HMP Belmarsh, where both men had ended up being confined at once. The first time they were acting like a dad and a son, and it was in prison.
Unfortunately, we should not be surprised that both were behind bars. We know that boys are six times more likely to offend if they have a parent who is in prison or has served time in the past – a terrible legacy that cascades down generations. On any given day, around 200,000 children in England and Wales will have a parent in prison.
That’s why our focus should never be just the offenders, but also on those left behind as the prison van pulls away. While society rightly punishes people who commit serious crimes by removing their freedom, families are most often innocents, ‘collateral damage’. Improving family contact is better for society as a whole, given the proven link between children with a parent in prison becoming criminals themselves.
Lord Farmer’s review points us in the right direction to identify ways to improve these relationships and mitigate known problems, and decide upon the best ways to harness the influence of families to keep offenders out of trouble and out of jail.
Our efforts will be boosted by having more staff on the frontline in prisons: we are investing £100 million to increase the number of prison officers by 2,500. It will help visiting times run more smoothly. In time, the extra numbers will enable us to introduce a new ‘key-worker’ scheme in which named officers are allocated to six offenders to challenge them to reform. One particular focus will be encouraging them to maintain and develop positive family ties.
Prison works. But only if offenders are reformed, so there are fewer victims in future. Most offenders will one day be released, and harnessing the family is the best way to ensure they can function fully as members of society.
This was Paul Senior's verdict posted on twitter:-
"Lots of well meaning pious words underpins a lack of detailed understanding of realities of post-custodial life and the job of probation."Meanwhile, it looks as if the Welsh are at last beginning to wake up to the concept of taking control of matters in their part of the world:-
First Minister establishes a Commission on Justice in Wales
A new Commission on Justice in Wales has today been announced by First Minister Carwyn Jones. The Commission, to be chaired by the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will review the justice system and policing in Wales and consider how the system can achieve better outcomes for Wales.
The Commission will deal with the unfinished business from the Silk Commission, which made a number of carefully reasoned, evidence-based recommendations, in respect of justice - covering the courts, probation, prisons and youth justice. It will also address crucial issues relating to the legal jurisdiction and the challenges facing the legal services sector in Wales.
The First Minister said:
“In Wales, we have had a separate legislature for 6 years but, as yet, we do not have our own jurisdiction. By establishing the Commission on Justice in Wales, we are taking an important first step towards developing a distinctive justice system which is truly representative of Welsh needs. The Commission will consider how we can do things differently in Wales and identify options to develop a distinct Welsh justice system, which improves people’s access to justice, reduces crime and promotes rehabilitation. I am delighted that Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd will chair the Commission when he steps down as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in October. Having risen to the heights of the judiciary in Wales and England, Lord Thomas commands universal respect and brings his unprecedented wealth of experience to this important role.”Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said:
“I am very pleased to take on this challenge when I step down as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in October. As a small developing jurisdiction, Wales offers unique opportunities to identify new solutions to the complex challenges facing justice and the legal profession. These are crucial to Wales’ future prosperity and I hope the commission will make a valuable contribution to addressing them.”