The received picture of life in today’s prisons is very negative, painted by so many stories of overcrowding, drugs, self-harming, suicides and violence. Yet a pattern has emerged of something more positive – the visitor centres and family support services being provided by prisons in partnership with Spurgeons Children’s Charity.
This more hopeful aspect of prison life has been highlighted by a number of prison reports published over the last 12 months – either by HM Inspectorate of Prisons or by local IMBs (Independent Monitoring Boards), appointed by and accountable to the Government.
All these reports present a caring service that’s committed to helping to keep families together and create quality time for prisoners and their children. These are services that, as one prisoner put it, “keep the bond between me and my children”; another resident described “seeing my sons play with their Dad” as perhaps the most important achievement of the prison’s visiting service.
Professional, kind and helpful
HMP/YOI Norwich became the latest prison to point to the effectiveness of Spurgeons’ work as it became the focus of an HM Inspectorate of Prisons report, published on 27 February. The report highlighted the Spurgeons Visitor Centre as an example of good practice, describing its staff as “professional, kind and helpful”, with their role seen as being “well-integrated with the prison – their targeted efforts helped all prisoners maintain contact with their families and greatly assisted some with their rehabilitation.”
The report also stated that “Staff in the Visitors’ Centre provided a high-quality service. The centre was well equipped and the staff were friendly, helpful and focused on assisting prisoners maintain contact with their families.”
There was also praise for the way Spurgeons staff get to know new visitors and how they have formed close working relationships with prison colleagues.
Families and residents feel they are well provided for
An IMB report published on nearby HMP Bure, in January, had observed that: “Families and residents feel they are well provided for and appreciate efforts from both staff and volunteers in recognising that many families travel long distances with small children and need support.”
The report also highlighted how “parenting classes have been established for residents to help maintain close ties with children” at the Norfolk prison.
Earlier in January, another report led by Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, into HMP YOI Standford Hill on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent found that: “Work to rehabilitate prisoners and plan for their release continued to be good. The prison, along with the children’s charity Spurgeons, offered prisoners a wide range of opportunities to maintain and rebuild their family lives.
Outstanding Visitors Centre
“The outstanding visitors’ centre was one of the best in the prison estate and was used to host regular and constructive family days.”
Last July’s HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on Elmley Prison, again on the Isle of Sheppey, also picked out the prison’s partnership with Spurgeons for praise: “The prison had refurbished the visitors’ centre, which now included an outside children’s play area. Spurgeons staffed this centre and provided a meet-and-greet facility for families.
“The prison, together with Spurgeons had developed a family and significant other strategy, with the head of reduced re-offending as the senior management head. The prison (supported) initiatives that encouraged family contact, such as Storybook Dads (which enables prisoners to record a story for their children).”
At a third Isle of Sheppey prison, HMP Swaleside, one prisoner so enjoyed a recent Spurgeons Family Day that he sent in the following feedback (just one of a series of highly positive comments from visitors and their loved ones about the day): “My family and I had a really good day; the activities were fun and for a second it felt like I wasn’t in prison. All the staff were really helpful and kept making sure we were OK. Thank you.”
Very engaging in offering advice and support for both adults and children
Spurgeons also impressed in an HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on HMP Lewes, in Sussex, published last spring, which said: “Spurgeons ran a welcoming visitors’ centre and provided a range of helpful family support, including advice for first-time visitors.
“There were regular and well-attended family days and a playworker in the visits hall, and a parenting programme was being piloted… the visits hall was now a cleaner and brighter environment, with a children’s play area for younger children.
“It was intended to develop this work further, particularly directly with prisoners to help them manage relationships with their children and family.”
One recent visitor to HMP Lewes described “an excellent service; friendly, helpful people, very engaging in offering advice and support for both adults and children.”
All of this has come within the context of Lord Farmer, whose 2017 Ministry of Justice Review* stressed the importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties in the prevention of reoffending and intergenerational crime, giving his personal backing to Invisible Walls, the Spurgeons family support service at HMP Winchester. In a letter of support, he described the service as a “beacon of good practice” and referred to its work in maintaining men’s sense of responsibility towards their families as being “transformational”.
Give children greater security, as well as support fathers’ rehabilitation
Spurgeons Chief Executive Ross Hendry says the aim of all the charity’s 12 prison family support services across the country was to strengthen family relationships in the firm hope this will give children greater security, as well as support fathers’ rehabilitation.
“All of these reports point to a consistently strong track record being achieved by Spurgeons in supporting children and giving hope to those families living with imprisonment, while reducing the reoffending rates of fathers on release.
“There’s growing evidence that family support and maintaining family ties is not only important for the well-being of prisoners, children and their families but can also help prisoners’ reintegration into the community following release,” he added.
*The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime August 2017
The full reports highlighted in the news release are available to download here: