Justice and Safety
Supporting Prisoners’ Families, Raising the Standard
Andrew McLellan, Chair of the National Prison Visitor Centre Steering Group introduces the new National Standards Framework for Prison Visitor Centres.
Prisoners’ families and prisoner’s children in particular often pay a very high price for their family member’s imprisonment. Children with a parent in prison are at a higher risk of experiencing poverty, health and mental health problems than other children and 65 per cent of boys with a father in prison will go on to offend themselves. Too often financial difficulties, emotional trauma and a lack of support are all part and parcel of having someone in prison.
Prison Visitor Centres provide a vital service to families visiting prisons in Scotland. Run by charities independent of the prison service, Prison Visitor Centres make families’ experience of visiting someone in a prison easier. They provide a welcoming environment, refreshments and toys for children before a prison visit and provide access to emotional, practical and financial support. These services are hugely important to all family members during what can be a very stressful time. For children living through their parent’s prison sentence, the right support is essential to prevent toxic stress from having life-long consequences for their health and attainment.
In 2015 the Scottish Government announced that it would be providing £1.8 million over three years to support the work of Prison Visitor Centres. The funding was provided from the Community Justice, Health and Children and Early Years Divisions in recognition that supporting prisoners’ families better could not only reduce re-offending but improve the health and life-chances of prisoners, their families and their children, contributing to the Scottish Government’ over-arching aim of reducing inequalities. Now all Prison Visitor Centres funded by the Scottish Government are working towards achieving the same positive outcomes for prisoners’ families, prisoners’ children and prisoners themselves. This week the National Prison Visitor Centre Steering Group has published on the Families Outside website a National Standards Framework for Prison Visitor Centres setting out what makes a good service and defining the outcomes all services are seeking to achieve. This framework has been developed collaboratively by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Prison Service and all of the organisations which provide support to prisoners’ families. It will allow Prison Visitor Centres to self-evaluate the service they are providing to families and provide a common framework to evidence that they are making a positive difference.
Prison Visitor Centres in Scotland are provided by a range of independent organisations that each have their own ways of working appropriate to the unique contexts in which they operate. The process of developing the National Standards Framework collaboratively has already provided opportunities for these varied services to share good practice and work together to find solutions to common problems. Now that this benchmark has been developed it will be easier to identify and promote best practice as well as for organisations to prioritise areas for development and for prisons they work alongside to support them to do so. Prisons see real benefits when the families who visit are less stressed and prisoners have increased quality contact with their families.
The National Standards Framework provides reassurance to the Scottish Government and other funders that all funded services are delivering a consistent quality of service. But most importantly it is a tool to ensure that there is a high quality service in place at every prison, which supports families and meets their needs.