'I told my daughter we were going to daddy's work on prison visit'

Family centres inside Scottish prisons aim to improve support for those impacted by a loved one's imprisonment.

When Claire takes her daughter to visit her partner in prison, she tells her they are ‘visiting daddy at work’.

She believes keeping up the pretence is a way of protecting their daughter’s mental health.

Around 1,600 visitors walk inside HMP Shotts in North Lanarkshire every month. Many of them are children and it can be a daunting and intimidating environment.

Throughout the Scottish prison estate, there has also been ongoing investment in family centres to improve support for those impacted by a loved one’s imprisonment.

Claire, who wished to remain anonymous, told STV News: “I did think it was scary for me so how was it going to be for her?

“She is six now and still believes what I told her but when she is older, she will understand and know what these places are for.

“I was living on adrenaline when my partner was first taken into custody. You feel alone and like people look at you as if you have committed the crime as well.”

HMP Shotts.STV News

Claire is being supported by the charity, Families Outside, which is working to improve help for relatives impacted by imprisonment.

She spoke out about the stigma she and others face as the justice secretary, Angela Constance, visited the family centre at HMP Shotts.

The Scottish Government has been investing in family centres and hubs throughout the prison estate.

Claire said support staff became like extended family as they helped both her and her daughter to overcome their anxiety and fears during visits and through an aftercare service.

Claire said: “The staff in the centre made the experience for my little girl like nursery with colouring in and drawing. Having that support was key and I know without that help, we would not be a family today. They kept us as a unit and helped us to communicate.”

There are 12 visitor centres in Scottish prisons but HMP Shotts has the only facility behind what is called the secure line.

The project, Getting Better Together has been working in partnership with HMP Shotts for ten years.

As well as providing practical and mental health support to families, staff working on the project deal with referrals for food banks.

Constance said: “Organisations supporting families estimate there are more children impacted by a parent in prison than young people impacted by divorce in Scotland.

“That is quite a staggering statistic. We also know due to where prisons are located, there are big challenges around travel and transport. To maintain that close contact, many prisons now facilitate virtual visits as well.”

Justice secretary Angela Constance.STV News

While welcoming the Scottish Government’s investment in visitor centres, Families Outside say it is impossible to know the scale of support needed without official data.

It believes detailed research must be conducted to ensure the right policies are in place to protect young people following a loved one’s imprisonment.

The charity is also calling for an urgent review of a scheme in place to help relatives with travel expenses. The findings of a recent report from Families Outside revealed the cost of prison is overwhelmingly borne by single women on low incomes.

Toni Groundwater, the charity’s head of external engagement, said: “We know many families do not come forward to access existing services.

Toni Groundwater.STV News

“There are various points in the justice system from arrest to court right through the prison system and beyond, particularly at the point of release where we could be identifying children and families that are affected and give them the support that we suspect they need but we just have no way of confirming that right now.”

William Stuart, the governor of HMP Shotts, says the visitors’ centre plays a key role in maintaining family ties.

William Stuart, governor at HMP Shotts.STV News

He said: “People will think this is soft prison but to the little girl at home wanting a bedtime story from her dad, he is still her dad. He has done something wrong; he is serving his sentence and we need to protect and maintain those relationships.

“Evidence tells us if someone is locked away and does not have contact with their relatives, they are more likely to reoffend. Only the person in custody serving the sentence, not the family.”

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