Prisons putting family ties at heart of new scheme to reduce reoffending

Parents in prison are being given quality time with their children to encourage them not to return to a life of crime.

A new families and parenting policy developed in Scottish prisons aims to put rehabilitation at its heart and help reduce reoffending.

The new Family and Parenting Strategy 2024 – 2029 aims to help further build relationships between those in custody and their children and incentivise them not to return to a life of crime.

It comes as 550 prisoners are set to be released early from the end of June to ease overcrowding in Scotland’s prisons.

‘I get to spend proper time with my daughter’

Quality time between David Murdoch and his daughter is the highlight of his week in HMP Edinburgh.

Families like his are now able to bond in a welcoming environment fitted with toys and games.

David told STV News: “It’s a good thing since she’s so young. Spending time with my kids, because obviously I’m missing a lot of time with them now.

“You get to walk about and have proper time with your kid, rather than sitting in a chair the whole time like in other visits.”

David Murdoch and his mum Anne have welcomed the new scheme

His mum Anne added: “It’s brilliant. It was not something you expected when he came in, that they do things like this. It’s nice to see them have special time and just interact with the kids.

“Now she draws up at the front bit of the building and says ‘daddy!’ and runs down the corridor shouting ‘daddy!'”

The strategy seeks to build on work already taking place, with the support of SPS staff and third sector partners.

It replaces the SPS Family Strategy, which was launched in 2017, and the name change reflects the increased focus on supporting people in SPS care to develop and build their parenting skills. 

Mothers and fathers in custody have the opportunity to take parenting lessons, and then put those skills into practice through interactive family contact sessions.

The charity Early Years Scotland provides support across five prisons.

Chief Jane Brumpton said: “They have a breakfast together at the start of the session. It’s a chance to bond, play and have fun with the child, even though it could be seen as a challenging environment.

“We also have a ten-week fathers programme. They’ll talk to us, saying ‘I know now my child needs me. I’m not going to come back in.

“If we can support that reduction in reoffending, it’s wonderful.”

HMP Edinburgh governor Jane Cruickshanks

Plans to release prisoners early and combat overcrowding were approved by Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Justice secretary Angela Constance said early release is only offered to those serving sentences shorter than four years and not to anyone convicted of sexual or domestic abuse offences.

The Scottish Prison Service confirmed there were 8,365 people in prison at one point this week – the highest number since 2012.

It’s hoped programmes like this can play a part in solving the issue.

‘Strong family relationships helps the transition back into communities’

Governor Fiona Cruickshanks said: “Everything becomes more challenging with a high prison population. It puts additional pressure on our resources, so we have more individuals vying for the same services.

“There’s only so many of ours hours of the day when we can deliver the services we want to.

“Individuals are going back out back into that family unit. If we can work with them to develop and strengthen family relationships, then it means when they can return to the community and transition is a lot easier for them.”

SPS has also introduced in-cell telephony, email a prisoner, and virtual visits, to support family contact, which is vital to the successful return into a community upon liberation.

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our new strategy reflects how important strong and healthy family relationships are to those in our care, especially with children.

“They support good mental health, aid rehabilitation, and reduce the risk of reoffending upon release, contributing to safer communities.

“They are also important to those family members left behind, when someone enters our custody, particularly children.”

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