Prison Review Says Family Contact Reduces Reoffending by Women

By Owen Bowcott, The Guardian

Family ties are “utterly indispensable” and must be strengthened if women caught up in the prison system are to avoid reoffending, according to a Ministry of Justice report.

HMP Send, a women’s prison in Surrey. Only 5% of offenders’ children remain in the family home when their mother is jailed. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Corbis via Getty

HMP Send, a women’s prison in Surrey. Only 5% of offenders’ children remain in the family home when their mother is jailed. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Corbis via Getty

The review carried out by Lord Farmer, a former Conservative party treasurer, found that more than half of women in prison had children under the age of 18, yet only 5% remain in the family home when their mother is jailed.

According to the ministry, the female reoffending rate is 23%, compared with men, who reoffend at a rate of 30%. Prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not.

Farmer said: “Healthy, supportive relationships are utterly indispensable for every woman in the criminal justice system if they are to turn away from criminality and contribute positively to society.

“The importance of good family and other relationships, which are rehabilitation assets, needs to be a golden thread running through the criminal justice system.”

His report recommends prioritising women’s prisons for the roll out of virtual visits conducted via video link and the installation of phones within cells – for which a £10m investment was announced by the justice secretary last year.

Farmer also recommends that each prison have an on-site social worker to provide dedicated support for women and their children to ensure they are maintaining vital ties with children and family outside the prison gates.

In a separate report, the Commons justice select committee has blamed the government for a “foreseeable” shortfall in the number of magistrates in England and Wales.

In 2012, there were more than 25,000 magistrates; by last year there were around 15,000. Additional funding should be given to HM courts and tribunal service to boost recruitment, the report on the role of the magistracy says, and greater efforts made to overcome the barriers facing employees who want to become magistrates.

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Olivia McDowellComment