James Mumford

Family is the key for breaking the reoffending cycle

Lord Farmer’s review on prison reform, launched this week at the Centre for Social Justice think tank, is ground-breaking for a number of reasons. For starters, it gets family. In an incontestably broad consultation, comprising hundreds and hundreds of interviews with prisoners across Britain, the resounding message that came back was about family. ‘If I don’t see my family I will lose them, if I lose them what have I got left?’, one prisoner told Lord Farmer. The statistics bear this out: the odds of reoffending are 39 per cent lower for prisoners who receive family visits than for those who don’t. To be left bereft by the family sucks away the motivation so critical to rehabilitation.

As for the families themselves, Lord Farmer highlights the hidden sentence served by the estimated 200,000 children affected by imprisonment. Against the backdrop of shocking levels of family breakdown among the poorest, imprisonment presents yet another form of it, with the absence of a typically male parent putting children at risk. ‘The one thing I fear most is my son moving into the kind of life I have led’, a prisoner reported, and he is right to fear it: 63 per cent of prisoners’ sons going on to reoffend.

The Review may have been commissioned by the Government, but Lord Farmer doesn’t pull his punches. Efforts to maintain and strengthen family relationships is ‘unacceptably inconsistent’ across the estate. Family work is not mainstream in offender management like employment and education are. While on the biggest single complaint he heard, the tragedy of prisoners being held far from their families, Farmer concludes: ‘There is still little respect for family ties when prisoner locations are determined.’ Good on the government for commissioning the report; and good on Lord Farmer for delivering a no-holds barred diagnosis.

If the diagnosis is hard-hitting, what about the ‘what is to be done?’.

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Written by
James Mumford
James Mumford is a London-based writer and fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. His most recent book, Vexed: Ethics Beyond Political Tribes, is out with Bloomsbury Continuum.

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