Families

As we all adapt to the increased restrictions on our daily lives in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have turned to technology to help keep in touch with our loved ones at a time of enforced separation.

For people with a loved one in prison, this is an especially challenging time, with all prisons now closed to visitors. Keeping in touch is more important than ever in these circumstances, and the government has issued guidance to help families and friends to maintain their relationships during the lockdown.

Following discussion with families who currently have a loved one in prison, Prison Reform Trust associate Sarah Beresford reflects on the role that allowing greater use of virtual visits could play in helping people in prison and their loved ones through the Covid-19 pandemic, and beyond.

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HM Prison Service has announced that prisons in England and Wales are temporarily closed to visitors following government instructions for people to stay at home.

Read the full guidance and how you can keep in touch with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic by clicking here.

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This week the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody held its Keeping Safe Conference conference in London. Speaking at the event, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, highlighted the importance of family members and loved ones being able to share urgent safeguarding concerns they might have for someone currently in prison.

Following the recent publication of our joint report, Keeping People Safe in Prison, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust and Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust) have issued a joint response to Robert Buckland's remarks.

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The families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences are not getting enough help to deal with the painful burden of supporting their relative through their sentence, a joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Southampton University reveals.

The IPP was abolished in 2012, but there are still 2,223 people in prison serving the sentence, nine in 10 of whom are passed their tariff expiry date. A further 1,206 people are in prison having been recalled while serving an IPP sentence in the community. The latest Ministry of Justice statistics show that the recall rate now exceeds the rate of release for people serving IPPs.

A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs, found that the pains and barriers faced by the families of people serving IPP sentences have not sufficiently been addressed by criminal justice agencies.

One family member, quoted in the report said “As a family it has destroyed us, and we need all the support we can get."

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Report finds just one in 10 safer custody departments in prisons answer phone calls from worried family members.

New research reveals that most prisons in England and Wales are failing in their duty to ensure that emergency phone lines are in place for families to share urgent concerns about self-harm and suicide risks of relatives in prison. This is in serious breach of government policy that families should be able to share concerns ‘without delay’.

At a time of unprecedented levels of self-harm in prisons, charities are calling on prisons to protect the lives of people in prison and address these critical failures. In 12 months to March 2019 there were 58,000 self-harm incidents in prisons – compared to 26,000 a decade earlier.

A joint report by the Prison Reform Trust, INQUEST and Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust), maps the provision of safer custody telephone lines across the prison estate - dedicated phone lines which enable family members and others to pass on urgent information when they have concerns.

It finds that provision is patchy, under-resourced and even non-existent in some prisons, leaving families struggling to share their concerns with prison staff.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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We’re pleased to launch our new series of podcasts with Straightline and National Prison Radio.

Presented by Phil Maguire OBE, Chief Executive of the Prison Radio Association, and Head of Prisoner Engagement at Prison Reform Trust Paula Harriott, each episode of The Secret Life of Prisons takes on a theme related to the prison experience, and features a range of guests with personal experience and insight on each topic.

Through the series listeners will be hear personal testimony from people who have been there, as you are guided out from court and arrival to prison, all the way through to release.

Click 'read more' for the full story and to listen to the first episode.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Commenting on the publication of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report Right to Family Life: Children whose mothers are in prison, Jenny Earle, programme director of the PRT Transforming Lives programme to reduce women’s imprisonment said:

“Today’s report recognises that women overwhelmingly commit non-violent offences, spend short spells behind bars, and are more likely to be the primary carer of their children. Ensuring that children’s welfare is more consistently and effectively factored into sentencing decisions, requires changes to both law and practice. This means that women have the opportunity and the confidence to disclose if they have children, and a prohibition on custodial sentencing without a pre-sentence report. The government must act on the recommendations of this expert cross-party parliamentary committee, and break the cycle of intergenerational crime once and for all.”

You can download a copy of our evidence to the JCHR inquiry by clicking here.

You can download a copy of our report on maternal imprisonment, 'What about me?', by clicking here.

Click read more to see our Head of Prisoner Engagement, Paula Harriott speaking to Channel 5 News about maternal imprisonment.

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Commenting on the publication of the final report from The Farmer Review for Women today (18 June 2019), Jenny Earle, Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives Programme Director said:

“Lord Farmer’s report makes many practical, and measurable, proposals that if implemented will reduce the number of children unnecessarily separated from their mother by her imprisonment. The review’s focus on increasing the role of community based women’s services, recognises that many women in prison are there for non-violent crimes. It allows women to take responsibility for their actions, whilst minimising the trauma, stigma and social isolation faced by children when a parent is imprisoned. Our own research found that the views and best interests of children are rarely considered by the criminal justice system and that they face many barriers to getting support. The message couldn’t be clearer, what’s needed now is speedy implementation. Doing so will benefit women, children and society.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Children are often devastated when their mum is sent to prison but their interests are rarely considered by a justice system which is blind to their needs, a new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) reveals.

For most children, their mother is their primary carer. Every year an estimated 17,000 children experience their mum being sent to prison. Last year, 83% of women sentenced to prison had committed a non-violent crime and 62% were serving a sentence of six months or less.

The report shows that a mother’s imprisonment not only damages the child’s relationship with her, but can affect every area of their lives, including their housing, education, health, and well-being.

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Late last year, the Prison Reform Trust’s advice and information service received a number of enquiries from people held in private prisons, regarding the cost of electronically transferring money into their prison account from families outside. Public sector prisons have also recently introduced such a service, however, unlike in private prisons this service is provided at no cost to either the sender or recipient. In response, we approached Unilink, the provider of the Secure Payment Service, to discuss how the situation might be able to be improved for those held in private prisons.

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